Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The 270th review overall!
After finishing up my last vacation, I went back to work for two days, now I’m about to start my post-vacation vacation. It’s always nice saving up days so you can block off a whole chunk of time late in the year. After a much unfortunate incident involving a drink of water, some coughing, running and a headache I came home to check out...
Stake Land (2010). Amazon Prime.
I had heard of this movie and saw it recommended by a few websites, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Let me tell you, you have no idea how close I was to turning it off within the first five minutes.
The movie opens with a family in a barn working on a car. While a young teenager walks outside, his family gets slaughtered by a vampire. As he tries to run to the screams, he’s tackled by a man who threatens to break his neck if he yells out. Luckily, the teen doesn’t scream because the man is a pretty bad ass vampire hunter. As they gather themselves, the pair walk to the barn where you can hear a baby crying. It’s at this point my heart sank because I knew what was coming. Eventually you hear a bite, a squeal and then the screaming stops. When the pair shine their flashlight on the vampire, you can see it feasting on the baby who then just lets it drop when it sees the man and the teenager.
Call me what you like, but after having my first child last year, violence on babies really gets to me. After that scene I wanted to run upstairs and wake up President Baby so I could give him a hug, but I thought better of it because it would probably piss him off and then wake up my wife which is a dangerous proposition! It used to be I couldn’t handle seeing dogs get killed in movies and that was it, now you can add babies to the list.
I eventually decided against turning off the movie, not because I was intrigued, but because it was getting late, I was tired and finding a different movie to watch was going to be, at best, a 10-minute search and I was looking forward to bed.
After the incident, it follows around the teen, Martin, and the mysterious hunter known only as “Mister.” A vampiric plague has swept across the world. You’re given a bit of exposition about how the US fell. For the big cities, it was like “Masque of the Red Death.” People locked themselves in, refusing to let anyone else in. Unfortunately, a plague ignores locked doors, so when it finally got in, those on the other side were trapped with creatures that just want to drink their blood. The vampires aren’t your typical vamps, they’re feral like wild animals. It seems like there’s nothing of their old selves behind and are only driven by their instinct to feed. I don’t know if I like that better or worse than the opposite, but it definitely worked better for what the movie was trying to do.
It’s pretty good. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction, it’s probably why I like the zombie genre so much. It’s kind of difficult to pinpoint how long it’s been since society collapsed, because the movie sends different signals. Cities and towns are abandoned, a gang of Christian fanatics (more on them later) have taken over the highways but everything is too clean for it to have been that long. There’s not as much grime and the clothes people wear don’t look at all worn. I honestly have no idea how long it’s been since the world went to Hell.
You follow along Martin and Mister as they head up north trying to dodge both the undead and the fanatics known as “The Brotherhood.” One thing that surprised me, it’s very quiet. I’m not talking about the volume, instead Stake Land paints a picture and it lets take it in. I loved that aspect of it. The two leads don’t really talk at all. There’s little dialogue and for long stretches you get nothing but landscape shots or the remnants of a collapsed civilization. You don’t need to tell us the world is fucked, show us. You saw what happened to Martin’s family and how he and Mister became connected, and that’s really all you need to know. Part of the reason Mister is so cool is you know nothing about him and it’s not like the movie goes out of its way to make him mysterious, he’s just a guy who doesn’t talk much and fucking hates vampires (something he mentions quite a few times).
On their journey they pick up and lose companions along the way, and you don’t learn all that much about them either. I love how, outside of the former military man, you know next to nothing about these people. I’m so used to being spoon fed every last detail about every character that’s important, it was weird just letting the movie play out while you’re oblivious. To its credit, Stake Land does raises an interesting question that I wished would have played out. One of their companions, played by Danielle Harris (of Halloween 4 and 5 fame, yep the ONLY Halloween movies she’s been in, fight me), and she happens to be pregnant. While being chased there’s a few times where she literally can’t move anymore. Once they escape, Martin asks what they’re going to do when the baby comes. It was an interesting moral dilemma that unfortunately gets answered for them because she dies shortly after because the two make a rookie mistake that even I saw coming and I have NEVER been a vampire hunter. There was also a very intriguing moment involving what Mister calls a “Scamp” (child vampire), but after a cool scene that had me very interested, they kill it and it’s never brought up again.
Yesterday I talked about how Day of the Dead was the most bleak movie I’ve watched in a long time, well this one tried its best to one up that. Literally every time you let your guard down or the characters seem to be enjoying themselves, that shatters like 10 seconds later. There’s a scene where they reach a settlement that’s fairly well to do. The whole place is celebrating, having a great time, even Mister is dancing with a child who came up to him. Then just seconds later, a helicopter shows up and literally drops vampires into the settlement! Then you see that little girl was one of the victims. It’s a horrible, horrible thing, but it’s... interesting. It gets explained, this is how Washington DC fell. The Brotherhood crashed planes full of vampires into the city
Now, about The Brotherhood. They’re the worst part of this movie. The group believes vampires are a curse from God, so they believe they’re doing God’s work by making sure they kill everyone. While the world they inhabit is still partly civilized, The Brotherhood’s leader is essentially Lord Humongous without compassion (and not looking like a bad ass). They’re so over-the-top evil you begin to wonder at what point in production did they decide to drop the monocle and twisty mustache. The leader meets his end in a satisfying way, but then through some later goofy shenanigans it changes and the explanation is just stupid.
Now we get to the ending. What I liked about the movie, and it’s hard to explain, but it didn’t try too hard and force things. But the final battle just seems so forced and contrived that it didn’t do anything for me. It seemed like they enjoyed this certain character so much it REALLY wanted to use him again. It fell very flat for me, although it was nice seeing the baddie get his comeuppance again. As for the other problem I had with it, the movie keeps building on their quest to get to New Eden, and after a night they spend with a woman they met, it just abruptly ends. I don’t understand Mister’s motivation and was more annoyed than anything with how the story concluded.
The movie had a lot of cool ideas but didn’t seem to want to follow through with them, plus at times it really drags. That’s not to say I didn’t like the movie, the leads are good, they have a nice chemistry that anchors the movie. I loved the long stretches where no one says a word, it’s just a montage of training shots, terrain and abandoned towns.
6.5 Dr. Chainsaws!
(It would be higher, but seeing the lifeless baby dangling in the vampire’s hand before being tossed away and the out of nowhere final act hurt the rating).
PS I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there was a sequel made. I’m curious about it, but it has the VERY unfortunate name of Stake Land 2: The Stakelander. Yikes!