Post Millennial Trauma: Stake Land (2011)


Vampires, eh? Has there been a more maligned Horror genre in recent years than the vampire film? Seriously, they either sparkle in sunlight, inexplicably want to bang Anna Paquin and possibly themselves, or are metaphorically grooming small boys for nefarious purposes. In the meantime, a couple of films have come out that have attempted to breathe new life into arguably the most overplayed genre out there. A recent development (probably in an inevitably futile attempt to break the cycle of EMO rape-y douchebaggery), as seen last year in Daybreakers, is a post-apocalyptic twist: the bloodsuckers have won (and I don’t mean bankers) so how will mankind cope with being the food source in a devastated world? This year’s entry in my Post- Millennial Trauma series also follows this line: welcome to Stake Land. Bring your own garlic.

The casting for the new Strepsils commercial wasn't going well

This is cleverly done. We aren’t informed what happened, let alone what caused it. Set in the near future, Stake Land charts the difficult and painful odyssey undertaken by Mister (Nick Damici) and Martin (Connor Paolo) across religious nutter and vamp infested America in the aftermath of a devastating plague that dropped humanity a rung down the food chain. Along the way they bump into Kelly McGillis’ Sister and Danielle Harris’ (continuing her one woman mission to appear in every horror film made this century) heavily pregnant Belle. Things invariably go tits up for our intrepid little band, and the film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Actually, the film this most reminds me of is The Road. Except it isn’t tiresome and tedious shit. It’s certainly very bleak and post-apocalyptic America sucks a fat one. Religious nutters “The Brotherhood” led by loathsome zealot Jebedia (Michael Cerveris) use the vampires (best scene of the film, this) as a weird and twisted bomb that they drop on other settlements to wipe them out. Luckily for our little band, Mister is training Martin as an arch-vampire killing ninja. Or some such. This, naturally, entails killing lots of vampires for fun and profit. Mister isn’t just about slaughtering the undead, rather he’s also teaching self-reliance. Something that I’d imagine is a pretty useful skill in the shattered future.

Martin was shocked to learn that sharp sticks kill vampires

The relationships are actually the key to the success of this film. Damici is frankly superb here- he manages to radiate a gruffness, but also lets a certain amount of tenderness towards Martin seep through. Paolo is OK as Martin, although his voiceover is an exercise in redundancy on more than one occasion while McGillis is revelatory as Sister. Harris is a solid horror pro, but is both pretty and adorably sunny in her part. To be fair, she fucking needs to be.  Cerveris, on the other hand, is a walking cliché- drawling idiotic biblical dogma in an obviously demented fashion. He’s quite good, actually, but the performance feels “wrong” in a film as understated as this one.

Stake Land is a depressing and atmospheric film. The cinematography is lush, and if I hat to pick a phrase to describe it then I would go for “achingly beautiful”. To complement this, the score veers towards melancholy classical music, and particularly in the later forest scenes the pathos pours of the screen. There’s a moment towards the end where Belle is too knackered to walk and Mister picks her up that is purely tragic, and the shot composition and music work supremely well in this context.

Bella really regretted allowing Edward to take her from behind

There really is a lot to like here. Leaving aside the atmosphere, Stake Land is also a seriously tense film: there’s an inevitability to tragedy to proceedings here, and it’s the infrequent moments of levity that invariably highlight an impending disaster. By the finale of the film these brief shards of light become painful in themselves as you know for a fact that something unpleasant is invariably going to follow. Furthermore, I actually seriously like the idea of vampires as animalistic natural hazard, and the real danger being human. This is not the most novel idea ever, but the explanation here that vampires are ruled by “the reptile brain” is well handled and relatively well thought out.

Against this though, there are problems here. There’s an intensely irritating ginormous plot hole that drove me nuts and I can’t stop thinking about it, and the end itself doesn’t feel earned. There’s a sense of inevitability to the final scene, but nevertheless, it felt like a bit of a betrayal of the characters. Furthermore, I also had a sneaking suspicion that it was being set up for a sequel. Nothing is particularly resolved, and the finale itself, particularly the final shot of the film feels both contrived and awfully convenient.

"Remember, Kelly, the safety word is "Melon". Don't forget"

I’m not trying to be nitpicky here, because this is an excellent film, but this did sour the experience a touch, and felt like a let down given the sheer polish to the rest of the film. This is a film I do recommend, and I’m glad that I saw it in the cinema (even if I did have to go to that tourist trap shithole The Trocadero to do so) as it has been royally and undeservedly shafted on distribution. Still, those 95 million screenings of X-Men: First Period in superdooper 3 fucking D probably makes up for it for the great unwashed.

Danielle's took the news that she had lost out to Kristen Stewart for the lead in Twilight badly.

Overall, I give Stake Land 3 EMO Vampire Kristen Stewarts stinking up the screen in Twilight (by the way, are you aware that closet rapist Vampire paedo Edward has to chew the foetus out of her uterus in this one that closet rapist paedo Werewolf Jacob has decided is his life mate. Yup, I’ve deliberately spoiled the film) out of 4. Stake Land is an outstanding film and a good take on the vampire mythos with no shortage of gore and some serious ass kicking.

It is being completely missold as Zombieland with Vampires, and couldn’t be more different. If you can, try to catch it before it leaves the cinema (I reckon you’ve got about 10 minutes left) or if not, make sure you do see it on DVD later in the year. We don’t honestly want more iterations of Twilight, do we?

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

26 responses to “Post Millennial Trauma: Stake Land (2011)”

  1. Droid says :

    I agree that the weakest aspect of the film is the religious nut. But on the other hand, I find it believable that such a fantatic would become a powerful figure. Lots of sheep to lead.

    The plot hole you mention… Is it the fact that all through the movie they say that vampires hate the cold? Because the third act really annoyed me.

    • Jarv says :

      I just found his performance too hyper compared to the others. The Jonestown cult was well done and you know they would spring up in that situation.

      No. It’s that religious nut is able to track them despite them having a huge lead and being off the beaten coupled with the New convenient vampire type AND the cold thing.

      • Jarv says :

        Also – I didn’t mention it but it’s an astonishingly mean-spirited effort in places

      • Droid says :

        I didn’t find it mean spirited. I found it inevitably tragic.

      • Jarv says :

        I didn’t phrase it properly- brutal is what I was looking for.

        Kids, old people, pregnant women, everyone can get fucked. It was refreshing.

        Are you still planning on reviewing twilight?

        I’ve spoiled it now for everyone.

      • Droid says :

        I’m halfway through the twilight review. Like about three or four others.

        I think theres a bunch of convenience in the plot. The tracking you mentioned. The fact that they somehow have a functioning helicopter full of vamp-bombs. The girl surviving by herself. Canada is “new eden”. But I appreciate the fact that it’s made on a shoestring and overall it’s a very solid film, so whatever faults it has I can ignore.

      • Jarv says :

        It just got to me.

        It wasn’t needed either- it adds nothing to the film, and that chapter is closed by this stage.

        It isn’t a deal breaker, and I do agree with everything else you say

  2. ThereWolf says :

    I really didn’t like the trailer and therefore haven’t given ‘Stake Land’ any thought since. With the review I’m slightly more inclined to give it a go, but probably not till it hits Lovefilm.

    That ‘Twilight’ one though, with the uterus chewing, sounds astounding…

    Good stuff, Jarv.

    • Jarv says :

      Completely true, that.

      This is a really good film Wolf. Ignore that crappy trailer

      • ThereWolf says :

        That’s never in the movie, surely – uterus chewing…

      • Jarv says :

        It has to be. The hack paints herself into a hideous narrative corner and it’s the defining scene of the fourth novel.

        The sex scene is unintentionally hilarious. Edward bites the pillow (not joking).

      • ThereWolf says :

        This is getting better and better.

        Is it directed by David Cronenberg then? Starring Michael Ironside as Edward…

        I bet he could chew some uterus, old ‘Do The Cunt’…

      • Jarv says :

        He’d just glare at it and it would split open in fear

        I wonder how far I am from 100% Ironside.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        I’d say we’re all pretty fucking far from 100% IRONSIDE. In the two minutes it took me to type and post this, Ironside already made five more movies.

        Glad to see that STAKE LAND is worth a watch – I liked the sound of this one. Will give it a go, Jarv 😀

      • Jarv says :

        Yeah, but I’ve seen some of the obscure ones, like DOWN! and Children of the Corn 900.

        I’m going to check.

      • Jarv says :

        Having checked, I’ve seen he’s made an awful lot. I think I’m about 20%.

        A lot of shit as well.

      • Droid says :

        You? Watching obscure crap? No! I just don’t believe it.

      • Jarv says :

        Everyone needs a hobby.

  3. Continentalop says :

    Kind of sounds like another variation of I Am Legend, but this time sticking closer to the book where they actually had vampires.

    Actually, it sounds like an alternate story line in the I Am Legend universe. Piqued my interest.

    • Bartleby says :

      Conti, said the same thing in my review:

      ‘A late-in-the game twist moves the narrative closer to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and in a certain way this is an adaptation of that book if the screenplay had been penned by Flannery O’Connor.’

      http://popcultureninja.com/2011/06/12/stakeland-review-where-the-vamps-have-bite/

      Jarv, I agree with most of what you said, except that I don’t think the third-act plot developments are really that intense.

      SPOILERS** vamp getting the jump on them seems plausible if you gather that it found a way to travel out of the sun during the day, because it could gain ground while they rest. Im assuming these things don’t sleep. And of course you could argue the ‘new strain’ angle gives them some leeway.

      Thought ending was more ominous and less convenient than you mentioned. Seems everyone (characters) has forgotten the cannibal warnings.

      Eitherway, great horror movie with a few small flaws.

      • Bartleby says :

        intense should be reworked to say ‘problematic.

      • koutchboom says :

        I still say if you take the first 40 or so minutes of I AM WILLIAM SMITH then cut to the first 30 or so minutes of OMEGA MAN and you’ve got I AM LEGEND the book.

  4. Xiphos0311 says :

    Man this sounds really good, I’m looking forward to watching it on DVD.

  5. just pillow talk says :

    Yeah, I’ll give this a go on DVD. Shit, if I watched the second 30 days of night, I really have no excuse not seeing an actual good vampire movie.

  6. Frank Marmoset says :

    Sounds good. I’ll keep an eye out for this one, although I find it hard to believe it’s better than Twilight.

  7. Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

    Been hearing a lot about this one. This review has jumped it up a notch too. Sounds just like my cup of tea.

    But I can’t do the Trocadero! Please don’t make me do it!

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