Stake Land compounds two of cinema’s recent surges – vampires and post-apocalyptic visions of America. Many of the recent takes on the vampire myth which have made a recent entry into the mainstream are particularly lame, namely Twilight, Lesbian Vampire Killers, Cirque Du Freak, I Am Legend (dark seekers – whatever!), Van Helsing, Blade, Priest and Underworld. On the other hand, there have also been the darker, more realistic approach to these creatures of the night, including the excellent comic book adaptation 30 Days of Night, as well as Daybreakers, Thirst, Let The Right One In and it’s not-as-good remake Let Me In. Stake Land however owes more to the zombie genre, with new HBO show The Walking Dead and Danny Boyle classic, 28 Days Later, seeming to have the biggest influence on the film’s depiction of vamps.
In Damici’s film, the vampires are savage beings, motivated by their instinctive hunger alone. These feral creatures are aggressive hunters, as menacing as those depicted in the Alaskan vamp nightmare – 30 Days of Night. However, by no means are these beings as developed any visible sign of intelligence, and like a shark in the ocean, they can smell the smallest amount of blood from great distances, making them akin to sharks above ground. Their main objective is to feed, and this primal quality makes them far scarier than most depictions within the genre. There is little scarier than a vampire or zombie that can run.
Just like Hillcoat’s recent Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road, Stake Land focuses more upon its two lead protagonists – a tough vamp hunter called ‘Mister’ (tip of the hat to Leone and Eastwood), and an able teenage boy Martin (but mostly called ‘boy’) – and their relationship amidst the barren and broken land of post-apocalyptic USA. Being taken under Mister’s wing from the introduction, Martin is trained and tested in combat and survival techniques as he and Mister travel across America hunting vampires, with an end goal of reaching New Eden – a fabled myth of a safe land amidst the enveloping decay. However, as with all ‘safe havens’, the grapevine has another take on what to expect there. Meanwhile, a Christian sect calling themselves the Brotherhood have taken to cannibalism, rape and violence, leaving the survivors with another enemy to contend with.
Thankfully, Stake Land avoids many of the clichéd errors made by (quite frankly) idiotic people in most horror genre movies, and instead sees the two leads preparing trip wires with alert mechanisms, wire fencing over vehicle windows, and armed with reliable wooden implements such as stakes and bow and arrows, rather than the Hollywood-ubiquitous gun with only one or two bullets!! Mister and the boy are careful to choose their paths, and ever-aware of the impending danger posed by the Brotherhood and the vampires. Like Zombieland before it, these characters follow a set of rules, and are fully aware of the ramifications of complacency. Stake Land is a realistic vision of the society amidst the chaos of a vampire apocalypse. It doesn’t dwell on ‘how?’ or ‘why?’ of the past, but like The Road, focuses more on the ‘what' - the what being a blood dripping population of psycho vampires - and how a microcosm of the population are surviving in this new Stake Land. Bleak but brilliant, definitely recommended to fans of the genre.