Stake Land [Blu-Ray] Jim Mickle

Stake Land [Blu-Ray] Jim Mickle
While the amalgam of influences it's formed from aren't the freshest in today's cinema climate, Stake Land repurposes those elements to create a unique experience in horror. It's a post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age, biblical road movie, with vampires. Hewing closer to The Walking Dead than any comparable film peer, this world is still under attack ― humanity hasn't been completely overwhelmed by the epidemic threatening normalcy. Towns still function in limited capacity, offering whatever essential services and protection can be mustered by banding together. In this landscape, Mister (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the script) ― earning his one-word diva name with badass points ― travels around the countryside, hunting fangs and saving the less able. One of the needy is Martin (Connor Paolo), a teenager whose family is slaughtered. Mister promises to protect Martin, taking him north to New Eden while training him as a survivalist and vampire slayer. Stake Land adheres to the most scientifically reasonable elements of vampire mythology ― rupture the heart, sever the spinal column, burn them with sunlight and they'll die―— choosing to ignore the harder to explain traditions, like bodies turning to dust or the implication of any supernatural powers. Lacking higher brain functions, these vamps borrow a bit from the fast-zombie school of monsters as well. These are all minor details that dress a richly detailed world, the landscapes of which are elegantly shot by DOP Ryan Samul, with a pastoral reverence ever so slightly informed by Terrence Malick, but with the grim sense of immersive doom John Hillcoat achieved in The Road. As a contemplative survival film, Stake Land succeeds admirably, but it's slightly derailed by excursions into the fantastic that don't quite jive with the rest of the tone. These mostly concern a side plot that serves as the central conflict, involving a twisted death cult. They see the vampires as cleansing agents of God and thus terrorize survivors, striking up an adversarial relationship with our protagonists. While implemented peripherally, as it is early on, the additional human horror works, but the filmmakers push the insistence on traditional action resolution past the point where it services the film, choosing not to deliver on a much more potent idea hinted at. Like many ambitious young horror directors, Mickle has put together a heck of a selection of extras. "Production Video Diaries" cover pre- and post-production, scoring, storyboarding, VFX and a Q&A session from the film's premier at TIFF, leaving all the actual shooting for a "Making Of." Instead of discussing or explaining anything in these features, we're given unfocused, raw behind-the-scenes footage ― mileage may vary, depending on your interest. More directly relevant and entertaining are "Character Prequels" ― mini-films detailing the origins of the main characters and one of the vampires. They vary in quality of execution, with some indulging in overt artiness, while others are extremely raw and brutal. Two commentary tracks are included, both headed by Mickle, one featuring the lead actors, with producer Larry Fessenden, and the other with additional producers, the DOP, sound designer Graham Reznick and composer Jeff Grace, whose sparse, melancholic score is integral to the film's sense of grace. It doesn't hit every mark it aims for, but Stake Land is a rare treat for moviegoers seeking a different flavour in their diet of bloodsuckers and apocalypse tales. (eOne)