23 June 2011

STAKE LAND- Review

Blah blah blah vampires. Blah blah blah popular. I really can't be bothered running through context for vampires with this film, partly because there's already another Twilight film coming in November, but mostly because it's barely a vampire film at all. Stake Land comes much closer to a zombie movie, specifically, to Zombieland.

Still, it's apparently vampires that have overrun the film's post-apocalyptic America, and a vampire hunter, known only as Mister, is amongst the survivors. As he travels around slaying as many monsters as he can find, he picks up several other survivors- an apprentice, in the form of newly-orphaned teen Martin, a young pregnant woman and a petrified nun. The vampires aren't the only threat to their survival though- the ragtag group spend just as much time avoiding the Brotherhood, a maniacal sect who believe the vampire infestation is God's work.

Talk to somebody who hasn't seen Stake Land and see if they don't reply "Oh yeah, the zombie one?" when you ask them about it. And even aside from the zombie-riffic gribblies, the comparison to Zombieland presents itself very easily, with Mister standing in for Woody Harrelson's Tallahassee, and Martin for Jesse Eisenberg's Columbus. The similarity doesn't stretch so far as to make us really care for these characters and what happens to them.

There are interesting character beats that unfold naturally, without getting in the way of the story, such as Martin's chaste perusal of some scavenged porno playing cards and Mister's constant vigilance against his environment preventing him from ever being really happy or relaxed. In many ways, it reminded me of The Road, but then I didn't find much to latch onto in that film. It very much has the same aesthetic as John Hillcoat's film, but unfortunately, its gravitas compensates for a pocket of disinterest that just as vast as I felt while watching The Road.

It is bleak, bleak, bleak, and then some more bleak. But all the same, the world-building isn't ever dull. There's a very interesting story development related to the hopelessness of this world, centred largely around religion. With the recent hysteria about the Rapture, it's not so hard to believe in the puritanical looneys this film presents in the Brotherhood. Even if we don't know them very well, you can immediately sympathise with our survivors, when the message of the film is that finding hope in this world has to be earned a little harder than through religion.



The video embedded above was released as part of the viral marketing for Stake Land, (warning- contains a potentially very upsetting scene) but there's really not a lot in the film itself to match up to its promise. It's a film that's very well thought through, but I needed it to be less economical with the character development than it is with its budget. In the end, it comes across as a zombie film that was accidentally created by someone who doesn't like zombies. Its tersely humanistic approach does it plenty of favours, but it all feels a bit impersonal.

Stake Land is now showing in select cinemas nationwide.
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 I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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