Stake Land is a post apocalypse vampire story and has more in common with many zombie stories like 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead than a traditional vampire tale. It is set an unspecified time after an outbreak of vampires has ended civilisation as we know it (called America in this film). Presumably it has been some time since the outbreak as when the vampires show up very early on in the film none of the characters seem surprised, nor do they seem surprised when a seemingly expert vampire hunter turns up out of the blue either. The lack of surprise seems to be spread rather too thick though as one of the main characters seems to be totally unsurprised that a vampire has just wiped out his entire family (spoilers).
A Kid is taken under the wing of a Mysterious Stranger who trains him to survive in the hostile world. Some bits of this are glossed over in montage but for some reason there are also some over-long and clunky bits of exposition which really feel like they are there to show the viewer that the writers have bothered to think up some back story rather than actually educate the kid or even the viewer. Since there is a lot of exposition in the kid’s narration too this starts to feel a bit over the top after the first 10 minutes.
The whole film is full of really corny narration delivered by The Kid in earnest deadpan tones. Sometimes it feels like it is trying to be flippant and self referential along the lines of films like Zombieland. Now that I think about it even the title is an almost direct copy from that film, but the style in which dialogue and narration is delivered indicates that the writers expect you to take it much more seriously.
A bit more realistic in its depiction of vampire slaying than your average vampire movie, traditional slaying methods all work but staking is not easy and often requires a hammer to finish the job. Decapitation and exposure to sunlight also work a treat but are similarly difficult to achieve. Most of the action is pretty gritty and realistic and even the vampires aren’t too over the top in terms of supernatural abilities although there are some annoying exceptions.
Sometimes the vamps seem to be shambling mindless animals no better than a traditional zombie but others are much more agile and seemingly intelligent even to the extent of communicating with humans. No kind of explanation or justification is given for these differences and although the lack of mumbo jumbo explanations is somewhat refreshing, you are left with the feeling that they were just shoved unceremoniously into the story in an attempt to liven things up or because the writers thought they were cool.
Of course the film doesn’t take long to switch to the well worn out “the real monsters are the people” plot line with rapists, cannibals and human sacrificing cults (or indeed all three at once) appearing out of the woodwork. And of course it doesn’t take too long for events to conspire to let the good guys show that they can be just as sadistic as the bad ones. There could be some social commentary to be had from the fact that everyone just goes along with it like it is normal but nothing comes of it.
Some of the decisions made by the characters are pretty odd and seem to only be in aid of looking cool or providing an easy excuse for the writers to have something horrible or dramatic happen.
- Driving around in hostile territory in a convertible with the top down all the time doesn’t seem like the greatest idea ever.
- The main characters are obviously on a mission to get to a particular place as quickly as they can but they alternate between tearing around in their car and only stopping in settlements for one night and seeming to settle down for longer periods before moving on. This might be a very sensible tactic given the situation but just ends up feeling a bit disjointed.
- Inexplicably they spend a lot of time travelling and exploring at night despite the fact that this seems to be completely unnecessary and a stupidly dangerous thing to do in a world infested by vampires.
- And of course there are all the usual stupid things like not staying together when in danger, wandering off to investigate things without mentioning it to their friends etc.
Towards the end it becomes more of a road movie in the vein of The Road or The Way Back and is actually pretty good at developing the small group of strangers in adversity as a surrogate family. For a few minutes at least it explores some interesting concepts of trust and acceptance among a disparate group. It is a great start (albeit almost at the very end of the film) but it is too little and far too late. When some of the group are inevitably killed it is more of an annoyance to the viewer because it is totally unnecessary rather than the desperately sad event that the writers obviously intended it to be. It is just a shame that it takes about 70 of the 98 minutes run time to get to this point and there is a really annoying bit of unnecessary supernatural violence shoehorned into the middle of it.
A strange mishmash of a film with disjointed ideas and some poor acting, not a great example of the genre and probably only interesting for avid vampire fans. Having said that, there is a sequel that I need to watch soon…