Vampires are all the craze right now. Whether it’s killing them on your iPhone or Playstation or being exposed to the irritating teen phenomenon that is Twilight. In fact, it’s safe to say that they have become something of a cliché and you’d have to do something pretty special not to be treading old territory when making a vampire film.
Stake Land sets a visually powerful scene. America has been destroyed by a semi-explained vampire epidemic, and its people are confined to small, depleted towns and outposts. The film shows promise in establishing some kind of structure to this post-apocalyptic scene; vampire teeth currency, Cannibals being as much of a threat as vampires and extreme Christian cults are just some of the things that define this bleak vision of the future.
We follow teenager Martin (Connor Paolo) and the roughneck ‘Mister’ (Nick Damici) as they embark on a journey across the United States in the hope of reaching New Eden, or Canada as us pre-apocalyptic folk call it. While it’s understandable that the pair have nothing in common except a will to live, there is little development of the relationship between them, and it becomes a challenge to remain interested in their fate. The same goes for the secondary characters who tag along with them, and whose comings and goings, livings and dyings are of no consequence to the plot or to the emotional state of the viewer.
What is particularly frustrating about Stake Land, from the horror enthusiast’s point of view, is that its substantial gore and violence does not conceal its affinity with teen-vamp offerings such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Twilight. The vampires themselves look like people wearing goblin masks, with their heavy make-up protruding clumsily from the face rather than being integrated into, and there is no suspense whenever they’re encountered. They’re such a common sight right from the start of the film that you’ll quickly become numb to them, if they even scared you in the first place.
As is the tendency in contemporary vamp stories, there are hints of adolescent teen romance between Martin and the cutesy girl-next-doors that join them along the way. These however, remain unconsummated, unless you count Martin kissing a particular girl after she’s died a brutal, bloody death as a notch on the bedpost, in which case you’re as sick as he is.
As Martin, Mister and their fleeting tag-alongs make their way across America, it becomes apparent that the plot is stuck in a vicious narrative circle of travelling-confrontation-travelling-confrontation that prevents it from gaining any depth. The action sequences are decently choreographed, but they’re all fundamentally the same, and the well-designed towns and outfits go to waste on a shallow story.
Stake Land provides no twists, no surprises, and no explanation for how evil Christian cultists manage to obtain a helicopter from which to drop vampires onto innocent people. Credit has to go to the set designers and cinematographers for creating a believable post-apocalyptic backdrop, but the action that occurs within it is neither heart-stopping horror nor teen-vamp drivel. As such, it’s hard to see exactly what audience this film was aimed at.
Best scene: The early scenes do well to evoke a bleak and desperate wasteland.
Best performance: Nick Damici as Mister gives the film some much-needed roughness.
Watch this if you liked: The Road, 28 Days Later