Stake Land is the kind of film that I feel bad bitching about. It’s a movie with some real ambition, one that makes a lot out of obviously limited means. A film whose spirit and ambition I really admire. But there’s no getting around the fact that it just doesn’t quite have the means to accomplish what it sets out to. As a book or a comic one could imagine Stake Land being a really affecting piece of work. As is I ended up too distracted by the zippers running down everyone’s back.
Like I said, this is the kind of thing I absolutely hate complaining about, particularly on an independent film, but if something took me out of the movie I have to be honest about it.
Stake Land wants to play it big. It takes place in an America decimated by a Vampire apocalypse, where small townships face against the growing encroachment of bloodsuckers and doomsday cultists who are often times even more dangerous. The film follows Martin, a young teen whose family is killed in a vampire attack. He’s saved by and apprenticed to The Mister, last of the vampire hunters and winner of this year’s Mickey Rourke look alike contest. The Mister takes Martin under his wing, trains him in the way of Vampire killing and guides him through post apocalyptic America. They form up a ragtag family with some other survivors which includes the ever appealing Danielle Harris.
Like I said, you really have to admire the film’s ambition, what it goes for would be tough to pull off for a film with ten times its budget and for the most part it does it reasonably well. The characters are likable of well drawn and I like its take on Vampires, transforming them into bestial, barely sapient creatures driven by unthinking hunger and not much else. Director Jim Mickle, has a real knack for atmosphere and action. Though not always convincing there is a real sense of place in Stake Land, the feeling that Mickle has lived here in his head for quite a while.
On the downside the film is choppy. It feels like a film made from a script that was chopped down to save on budget and time. Characters disappear and reappear with no explanation. At one point the group stumbles upon the corpse of one of their members, who I didn’t even realize was missing at that point. It also leans a little too heavily on Malickian ellipses, if I had to see one more magic hour shot of stake practice it might have driven me around the bend.
Yet despite it’s flaws its hard not to like Stake Land and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has a real interest in the horror genre. Sure Stake Land’s reach may exceed its grasp, but it is still refreshing to see a horror film reach that far. Would only that, “too much ambition” was a problem that more horror films had.