Stake Land? Mistake Land more like! – That’s the pun I would have used if the film wasn’t very good. It took a long time to think up so I thought I would just use it anyway. Sorry.
Frustratingly though, Stake Land is really good. It’s really a zombie film, and though it does pretend that it’s zombies are vampires it doesn’t really matter. There is talk of a plague that has swept across America, presumably turning people into these vamps and now the country is overrun. To it’s credit, the film does not make the mistake of spending an age explaining exactly what their monster can do, but it seems that they are pretty much exactly like the rage virus zombies in ’28 Days Later’ except that they need to be staked to kill them and they burn in sunlight, it’s all very familiar though there are a few nice twists such as the Berserker vampires who are too tough to be staked. These certainly aren’t sophisticated, elegant vampires in flamboyant cloaks, nor do they sparkle. They are blood-soaked and feral and definitely one of the best zombie variants I’ve seen.
The next thing the film has going for it is the post-apocalypse setting. It’s reminiscent of ‘The Road’ – the world is bleak and empty and there are only small pockets of weary people left in the wildernesses of America. And a lot of those people are nasty – there are religious, vampire worshipping Christian nutters – their symbol is a crucifix with fangs and rumours of even worse people. There’s nothing quite as horrifying as the cannibals from The Road, but then The Road is so effective because it doesn’t involve any supernatural elements, it feels like something that could really happen. It is to its credit that Stake Land manages create a similar atmosphere to The Road despite featuring vampires. It’s a believable world and really that is what you want in a horror film. I felt that it lost a little of it’s hard-earned credibility near the end, but for the most part it was convincing.
The cast and characters are all excellent, and this was where the film could easily have fallen flat. Nick Damici (who co-wrote the film) is perfect as an archetypal Man With No Name type and all the other characters in his small group are surprisingly likeable. It’s rare that the gang assembled in these zombie films is all so easy like, this is definitely not ‘Dawn of the Dead’ or even ‘The Walking Dead’ where half the cast is so tedious or stupid it would be better for everyone if they just hurried up and got eaten. I don’t think I recognised a single actor but they were all very good and although I guess I wasn’t especially attached to them, it was still a shame when they invariably got eaten.
I am such a big fan of post-apocalypse films (I always watch them half thinking about how much fun it would all be) and monster/zombie films that I can’t help but love Stake Land really. It’s possibly a bit of a conventional story which is really just like ‘Zombieland’ but played straight or maybe the comic book ‘Crossed’ – albeit considerably less gross. But it’s so beautiful to look at and so well done that I didn’t mind.