Stake Land is a bleak and depressing post-apocalyptic movie. It’s in the vein of many zombie movies, but instead it’s about vampires.
Although the vampires are nothing more than a swap for zombies, it still works great for me. I love the idea of vampires being monstrous and mostly mindless. In some ways I find this reminiscent of original vampires, when they were sometimes more grotesque in nature. They didn’t really become the charismatic and sophisticated vampires we know today until The Vampyre, written by John Polidori, was published in 1819.
I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic movies of any kind and Stake Land is no different. It is paint by numbers for the genre, but I am very forgiving of that. Honestly I think the best description I’ve heard is pretty cliché, The Road meets The Walking Dead. I bring this up because it does come off a little episodic throughout.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie was first going to be a TV series and then got made into a movie instead, much like Zombieland. Wait, Stake Land… Zombieland… if I go missing, I didn’t kill myself!
We follow a kid named Martin (Connor Paolo), who is rescued by Mister (Nick Damici). Mister takes him under his wing and teaches him everything he needs to know to survive the new wasteland that is America as they attempt to head to Canada. Canada is where a supposed utopian sanctuary city free of all the chaos is, called New Eden.
The movie has interesting vampire concepts of vampires, some different from usual. Stake Land doesn’t get up it’s own ass about them like Army of the Dead did with their zombies and the weird class system. Mister refers to some as berserkers and children turned into vampires as scamps. There’s some explanation about different ways to officially kill vampires, but mostly it comes down to the classic wooden stake in the heart. It does give some depth to the vampires.
The world is nicely built as they go into different towns and we see the barter system that is in operation. They trade in vampire teeth. Mister is a great vampire hunter and after killing them he rips out their teeth and uses them to trade. They also grant him respect too. Little details like this help make the world they live in feel real.
Along their journey, they meet a few people. Some good and some bad. The bad guys are made up mostly of white nationalists skinhead types. When this movie came out in 2011 this was nowhere near as common as it is today. Watching Stake Land again now, these bad guys come off as cringe and frustrating.
They meet Sister, played by Kelly McGillis. You might not recognize her after all these years, but she’s probably best known for Top Gun.
In Stake Land, she’s a nun and she’s great in it. She is a strong character. Maybe the only criticism is that she ould have been given more to do. That is the one issue with a road movie. Many people they meet feel a little underdeveloped or underused.
They also pick up Belle (Danielle Harris). She’s pregnant and looking to reach New Eden before the baby comes. Harris is a great actress. For this genre of horror-thriller, she’s much more than a typical scream queen.
Lastly they meet Willie (Sean Nelson), who is the most shoehorned in character I’ve ever seen in a movie. Nelson is fine enough, but he adds almost nothing to the movie.
The white nationalists are caricatures. They felt like cartoon Klansmen. After years of being warned of a white nationalist threat in the real world they now seem so comical it’s hard to watch. The main villain’s name is Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) for Christ sake (no pun intended).
Just put these guys in white hoods and have them burn crosses. Oh wait, there’s a scene with a burning cross. Of course they’re the major problem for the protagonists and not vampires.
Some of this comes off predictable, but not for want of trying. Maybe Stake Land was ahead of its time? At least they don’t veer into full “all white people are evil” territory as they probably would today.
Stake Land is brutal and you walk away feeling a little dirty, but there’s always hope and the movie expresses that well. The vampires being savage monsters is great to see and kind of refreshing, even though they do act a little too much like zombies. You do care about a lot of the characters and the creators put some depth into the world, and I respect that. If you’re a fan of vampires and movies that take place after most civilization is wiped out, you should definitely check this out.
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