Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 19: Stakeland

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. 


le0pard13 said...

I really liked this one. It reminded me of a mash-up of ZOMBIELAND (without the humor, of course) with WINTER'S BONE.

"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."

Are you referring to their finding Willie, here? If yes (spoiler warning), I thought it was implied he was snatched when he came out of the bus to take a whiz. Glad you got a look at this one, Bryce. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I had the same issues that you did. I also found it very repetitious: 'let's go fight vampires, walk on, fight vampires some more, do more walking, rinse & repeat.' It bored me to tears. And I have never been so unnerved by a soundtrack (in a bad way). Each scene was punctuated by the soundtrack as if to make it more dramatic than the previous. It irritated me to no end.

In the end, it was OK when it could have been great.