Sunday, November 6, 2011

Horror Film Review

Stake Land (2010):  Finally!  A vampire flick that doesn't suck (pun most definitely intended).  No sparkling, angst-ridden, pasty-faced creatures of the night here.  Rather, it's a zombie apocalypse movie with vamps instead of zombies.  Even better, it's character-driven and dark as hell.  It has a lot in common with The Walking Dead, AMC's hit TV show that follows a group of people struggling for survival after zombies overrun the planet. 

A virus that turns its victims into mindless, psychotic vampires has swept across the country leaving chaos and calamity in its wake.  An enigmatic drifter known only as Mister (Nick Damici) saves a teenager, Martin (Connor Paolo), from a vamp that killed the boy's family.  Together, they travel north toward New Eden, a supposed safe zone in Canada that's beyond the reach of the monsters.  Along the way, they pick up a nun named Sister (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant girl named Belle (Danielle Harris), and war vet Willie (Sean Nelson).  Worse than the vampires is a fanatical religious cult run by Jebidia Loven (Michael Cerveris), a man who really wants Mister and Martin dead.  See, our heroes had rescued Sister by killing two cult members, one of whom was Loven's son.  As the group gets closer to New Eden, it becomes apparent that they're being hunted by something that's too cunning to be a vamp and too powerful to be human.  And, of course, not everyone make it out alive.

What struck me about Stake Land was how serious it is.  A stake to the heart and sunlight still do the trick, but there's none of the romanticized crap about crucifixes, nor do the vampires need to be invited into your house to eat you.  What we don't discover is the origin of the virus, which would have been nice to know but isn't at all necessary for the story to work.  What also struck me was how much Damici looks like Mickey Rourke.  It's downright spooky.  I honestly didn't recognize Kelly McGillis, but my goodness, can that woman act.  Paolo is very attractive, almost pretty, and it makes me wonder if that was by design...juxtaposing the boy's beauty with a world that is now so ugly.  Given the heaviness of the film's tone, you'd think Martin would die.  (I'll break my rule about spoilers and tell you that he lives.)

The Breakdown

Acting:  Nothing to fault, really.  Paolo is a bit wooden at times and Cerveris has a tendency toward ham but on the whole, the cast is excellent.  McGillis is
Story:  New take on a tried and true formula.  What I liked most is that I had no clue what the hell was going to happen.  I thought I did and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was completely and totally wrong.
Direction:  Hard to describe.  The tension is a force in and of itself, yet how this was accomplished is unclear.  That, I think, is the mark of a good director (Jim Mickle). 
Production Values:  By all accounts, this is a low-budget film (budget of about $4 million), but it certainly doesn't look it.  Given that 90% of the scenes take place outside helps.  There's some nice cinematography.
Gore/FX:  Lots of blood, a fair amount of gore, and no CGI.  The perfect recipe for a horror movie.
Scares:  You won't jump very often; however, there are plenty of scenes to creep you out.
The Ending:  I won't go so far as to say it leaves you hanging, but it does leave you with two very big questions you'd like answered.  Is it a happy ending?  About as happy as possible given the theme.

The Verdict:  Should you see Stake Land?  Yup.  It's my new favorite vampire flick and has restored my faith in the blood-sucking genre.  The perfect Twilight antidote.  And Lord knows we can all use that.

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars. 

No comments:

Post a Comment