Written by: Nick Dimici & Jim Mickle
Directed by: Jim Mickle
My unschooled son, now eighteen, once practically made a career out of preparing for the zombie apocalypse.
This involved some reading; some practical skills, like learning to use a machete (quite useful for tackling all those overgrown vines in the yard); and logging many hours of video gaming, strictly for the good of humanity of course.
I took comfort in knowing that my resident expert on the undead and general badassery would protect me during the inevitable apocalyptic shit storm. When I told him that, he gave me a rude awakening.
What? You’re going lone wolf?
Yup, his survival plan included callously ditching the woman who had given him life, leaving her as fodder for the walking dead.
Well… I’m royally f*cked.
Stake Land is a dark, somber horror and suspense film combining zombie and vampire lore. The world has fallen to hordes of walking dead, vampires who don’t have the good grace to spend the daylight hours in coffins, giving people a fighting chance. Sixteen-year-old Martin (Connor Paolo) sees his family slaughtered by vampires before he’s rescued by Mister (Nick Dimici), a single-minded zombie slayer who never reveals his true name. On their journey, Mister teaches his young protégé how to fight and survive.
Along the way they ally with several other survivors, including Belle (the gorgeous Danielle Harris), a young pregnant woman, and a nun simply known as Sister (the lovely Kelly McGillis — I didn’t recognize her until I saw her smile). No one shares their story. According to Mister, it’s easier that way. They’re existing in a world that has shriveled into a perpetual struggle for survival.
The plot thickens because, shockingly, not everyone behaves honorably among the remnants of civilization. After evading the undead, these survivors have to confront… seriously, cannibals? The real danger, however, lies in a deranged religious cult — it’s as if Westboro Baptist Church has gone completely f*cking Lord of the Flies.
This movie accomplishes a remarkable feat; it offers no backstory for its characters, yet they seem like living, breathing people and we care about them. And even in a world with only the rudiments of civilization and community, genuine bonds begin to form.
The film is wonderfully atmospheric. It puts us in a surreal nightmare world that seems so real we can walk around in it, smell it, feel it. The cinematography is dark, with muted colors, and gorgeous.
Character development is spare but interesting. The stand-out performance is from Nick Dimici. He elevates Mister, a man of few words with no back story, into a memorable character.
I am not normally an aficionado of serious horror — give me Shaun of the Dead or What We Do in the Shadows any day. But given the dark quality of this film, it’s a lot more fun that you might expect. The suspense is well honed, the vampires are suitably ghoulish and creepy, and the chief villain (Michael Cerveris) packs a punch. However, it is the quality of the storytelling that absorbed me. It weaves together tales we’ve seen before — mentoring a young warrior, struggling for survival, striving for human connection in a brutal realm — but in combination, these elements make for a satisfying journey.