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Bob Doto [Celluloid 03.10.11] post apocalyptic movie review

Year: 2010
Directors: Jim Mickle
Writers: Jim Mickle / Nick Damici
IMDB: link
Promo trailer (no actual footage): link
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 6.999999 out of 10

[Editor's note: This is our third review of Stake Land. Rochefort saw it at Fantastic Fest and loved it, corridorstyle at Sitges, same reaction. Now our NY boy, Bob, weighs in with some genuine love and misgivings.]

Jim Mickle's STAKE LAND is a necessary step forward in the world of vampire films. Stark, post-apocalyptic, and relatively reserved, the film nearly pummels the genre all on account of what it doesn't do: blow its load on "cool" weapons, inane no-neck military men, and fanciful ideas of what we're going to wear during the end of days.

But, boy does it come close to flipping sides. So many times I waited for the cheese to creep in. And, while I can't say it ever did in total, I definitely left the theater with a few curds on my lap.

By now you know the premise: A boy name Martin (Connor Paolo) witnesses his family being killed by a vampire and is saved by a man named Mister (Nick Damici). Mister teaches Martin how to survive in the wild among the nearly living (and the living) and both learn a thing or two about who they are as people. Told with an attempted level-headedness, STAKE LAND presents itself as a raw portrayal, a no BS take on what could be if the world went bye-bye and vampiric mayhem ensued.

As such, STAKE LAND tries incredibly hard to remain genuine, stay blunt. The dialogue is fairly crisp and cool. The settings are domestic and familiar. Even the vampires, who by all accounts are truly ferocious looking, speak only to their own decomposition. That is to say, the vampires come across as the logical end to an already disemboweled social landscape. But somewhere, somehow, the film starts to fall into the camp crowd. Somewhere along the line, the cheese curds start to crumble.

Had this film believed whole-heartedly in its own design—a stripped down take on the vampire-riddled post-apocalypse—I'd state with confidence that the film was an absolute piece of beauty. Unfortunately, however, take this film out from behind the safety of its unique context and what you have at best is a decent post-THE ROAD vampire story with an identity crisis. Meaning: I don't know who, but it looks like somebody got in there and messed with things.


In STAKE LAND the course of the vampire is defined early on. They are non-verbal, decrepit, blood-obsessed scourges that ravage the living for no apparent reason. However, all this definition gets ruptured by what I can only imagine was an attempt to dumb down the film. Maybe sell it to a younger audience?

For me, the beauty of the zombie/vampire/etc. genre is watching how the constraints or "rules" pressurize the environment. The rules are set in place so as to allow a film maker to think in ways otherwise impossible had all options been left on the table. It's John Cage using chance operation to write a piece of music. It's the OULIPO writers using "n+7" methods to write poetry. STAKE LAND sets up its constraints, albeit with a few cracks, but in the end allows these cracks to become proper fissures as in the final minutes we encounter an actual fowl-mouthed, self-aware, talking vampire!

Nope. Don't like it.

The film also utilizes a number of horror conventions I thought we were done with. Guess not. Nonetheless, I offer STAKE LAND another of my many "Check Yrself" lists:

1. The Southern yokel trope has got to go! Yankees need to get some new material.

2. The fact that every black character who spends ten seconds on screen, and God forbid has a line, gets knocked off is a shameful hold-over from our parent's generation. Time to let go, son.

3. They say, and I believe it to be so, that racism never went away, it just got more sophisticated. Well, the same can be said about sexism. STAKE LAND has still got the girl-has-sex-gets-killed thing happening, but while in the past our damsel in distress would have a rack the size of Texas, in STAKE LAND we simply get a nice girl-next-door who wants to love, and in fact, is loved by the boy, but unfortunately can not live out her dreams 'cause oops, she's preggers, and (we) don't know who the daddy is. Sorry, sis. You gots to go.

It's themes like these that make it hard for me to believe that with STAKE LAND we're looking at a real piece of progressive cinema. While I'd love to say that the above are merely genre trope set in place to draw light upon the story's sub- and meta-texts, necessary tropes against which a writer/director reflects his/her own style, in the end all I see are conservative mores creeping in to sell a few more seats.

So, it's official. I'm honestly torn with this film. Yes, I want you to see it, because STAKE LAND is a decent take on the genre. It's the next best thing to a real authentic and inspiring vampire film. And yet, I feel we shouldn't have to settle for second best. We want and deserve more! Let's please require it.

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Michael Allen (11 years ago) Reply

There is a lot of evidence to back up your point: "that racism never went away, it just got more sophisticated." Racism is more implicit nowadays and less explicit. Anyways, I am still looking forward to see this one and another apocalyptic title called Re-Kill. Nice Review.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

still waiting to see this.

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