BOX OFFICE REVIEW: Stake Land
IFC Film's new vampire movie makes for great American horror...
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IFC Films continues to bring to audiences everywhere smaller, lesser known titles which most of us wouldn't see on the big screen. Now, thanks to IFC Films, American horror film fans won't miss Stake Land, an impressive vampire tale by writer/director Jim Mickle, who some horror film fans will remember was the mastermind behind 2006's disturbing Mulberry Street.
Now, Mickle and writing partner/film star Nick Damici bring to life a near-future alternate America, ravaged by political and economical disaster. To make matters worse, a vampire epidemic has ravaged the country, bringing with it cults, radicals, and survivalists of the worst kind. So what's teenage survivor Martin to do but follow a death dealing vamp hunter named Mister as he makes his way north through America to Canada, the rumored New Eden.
First, if you haven't seen Mickle's previous feature-length film Mulberry Street, you're missing out. As a part of 2006's AfterDark Film Festival and that year's 8 Films to Die For, it was one of the best. A frightening twist on the zombie/outbreak/epidemic movie, Mulberry Street helped establish Mickle as a horror writer/director to watch.
Now, 5 years later, Mickle has returned and he does not disappoint. Stake Land delivers plenty of tension, frights and horror. In fact, I've seen a lot of horror films over the years and few start with as much of a shock as this one. Not for the faint of heart, Stake Land delves into some of the darkest, deepest and most frightening ideas horror films can explore. Stake Land explores what it means to be a survivor in a time when death might be a mercy. Likewise, Stake Land explores the degradation and pollution of today's American dream and the destruction of everything we hold near and dear. Everything from the rise of radical religious zealots and the use of vampires as weapons of mass destruction to the slaughter of entire families and the raping of nuns sees exposition in what some vampire fans will consider the best horror film of 2011.
Stake Land follows Martin (Connor Paolo), a teenage survivor of a vampire massacre rescued by Mister (Damici), an ambiguous and jaded warrior who hunts the vampires while others run or hide. Moviegoers are provided a look into this bleak future as we follow the pair on their pilgrimage north to the fabled New Eden and, along the way, the pair encounter viscous religious fanatics hellbent on bringing about the foretold apocalypse, hostile survivalists who'll do whatever it takes to live, and struggling survivors - like them - who only wish to live. One such survivor, a gracious nun called Sister (Kelly McGillis) remains hopeful and letting her love shine brightly in an age of darkness, mistrust, and death.
The cast here is amazing with Paolo (best known for his reoccurring role in Gossip Girl) capturing the naive, maturing young Martin; Damici playing the shady, stoic veteran Mister with ease; and McGillis playing the role of the abused yet hopeful nun Sister perfectly. Other supporting actors include Danielle Harris as Belle, a needy young woman looking to find a life with her new family and Michael Cerveris as Jebedia Loven, a religious fanatic with a dark secret. Again, the cast - while made up of relatively unknown actors and actresses - is brilliant here. The fact most moviegoers won't recognize them helps ensure the characters become real, further expanding the suspension of disbelief.
The film's morbid atmosphere and setting helps expand the script's dark story and outlook on life. Moviegoers will sink deeper into the angry, disturbing world thanks to not only the character development, but the continued development of the world in which the characters live and survive. While I don't want to imagine what might happen were the world to experience a vampire epidemic and complete political and economic breakdown, I'd like to think Mickle got it right in Stake Land.
While death is commonplace in Stake Land and themes like religious fanaticism and bigotry are explored, the film thankfully leaves moviegoers at least slightly hopeful; hopeful that family - both those we're born into and those we make up along the way - can and will survive no matter the circumstance.
Stake Land is rated R and is available in theaters and On Demand now.
- Jess C. Horlsey
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley