At times like these when it seems that we are at the swirling outer edge of a vortex about to suck our society down the toilet, it isn’t surprising to see so many post apocalyptic kinds of movies.
I picked up a copy of Stake Land the other day and watched it during one of my more severe recent bouts of premature waking (i.e. up at 1:30 – 2:oo am with no ‘maybe going back to bed in a while’ about it).
Stake Land takes the by-now familiar ‘post zombie apocalypse’ theme and replaces the zombies with vampyres. The movie Priest does basically the same thing but also adds many (too many, in my opinion) other genres into the mix. Other than that, Stake Land is, in many ways, your basic zombie movie.
Take Zombieland and give it a humourectormy – in fact, make it extremely unfunny and kind of depressing. Replace Tallahassee with an older serious vampyre killer (Mister), replace Columbus with a kid (Martin) who’s had his parents and infant sibling killed by vampyres and is taken under the older guy’s wing and trained in vampyre killing, and replace Wichita with a small town pregnant girl (Belle). There is no Little Rock character but throw in a nun (Sister) whom Mister and Martin save from being raped by two young wacko guys from a bizarre Christian cult. Instead of going on an extended road trip across the southwestern United States in an attempt to find a sanctuary free from zombies (i.e. Pacific Playland), this group goes on an extended road trip up through the Appalachian United States in an attempt to find a sanctuary free from vampyres (i.e. Canada).
OK, here’s the deal in a bit more detail… A young man, Martin (Connor Paolo) has his family killed by a vampyre. Martin is saved by an older man known only as Mister (Nick Damici, also the movie’s co-screen writer) who is a highly skilled vampyre killer. Mister takes Martin under his wing and trains him in vampyre killing. We learn that the world has gone through a vampyre apocalypse in the not to distant past. People are beginning to regroup and trying to form towns. There are ‘normal’ towns (for lack of a better word) and also outposts of less normal groups of people. We hear about cannibals and we see evidence of a territory controlled by The Brotherhood, a Christian fundamentalist militia cult headed by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) that interprets the vampyre plague as the Lord’s work. Mister and the kid save a nun (Kelly McGillis) from being raped by two Brotherhood young men. Mister kills the boys and allows Sister to ride along with them.
Mayhem ensues when The Brotherhood’s leader, Jeb, does not take kindly to Mister since a) killing vampyres is, to them, killing the instruments that the Lord has sent down to destroy the earth, and b) one of the young rapists was Jeb’s own son. The Brotherhood and the group go back and forth, capturing each other and leaving each other to the mercy of the vampyres. Along the way they also pick up a pregnant girl (Danielle Harris) and an ex-Marine named Willie (Sean Nelson). The group soldiers on, ever northward, suffering horrors and losses all along the way, hoping to reach safety and, it is hoped, a new life for themselves.
My two cents… Like the amazing AMC television series, The Walking Dead, Stake Land does not focus on the cause of the apocalypse. The vampyres are almost in the background, really, as the film concentrates on the survivors and especially the relationship of the members of the group. And it is the characters that I found truly interesting. Also, since most of the movie is set in the Appalachian regions of the eastern U.S. between northern Georgia and southern New York State, the scenery is often breath-taking, highlighting even more the ugliness and brutishness of the kind of life with which the survivors are forced to deal. It’s as if I Am Legend took place in the country back-roads and woods of Tennessee, West Virginia or Pennsylvania. As with many other post apocalyptic movies, religion is a strong theme – usually a warped fundamental perversion of what we have in present day. Priest showed a dark twist on the Catholic Church. In Stake Land, The Brotherhood is an obscene offshoot of southern born-again Christianity with survivalist eschatology-cult overtones.
Bottom line… I think “like” and “enjoy” are probably the wrong words to describe how I feel about Stake Land. It is a movie that is definitely worth watching. Great characters, good performances, fabulous scenery and a good if not wildly original storyline. It’s a bleak and not overly optimistic view of what is left of America after the stuff hits the fan in a major way. And yet, there is heroism and there is courageous self-sacrifice and there is a hope that somewhere at some time, life can start again and maybe just maybe there can be a future that is at least a bit brighter.
One and a half post vampyre apocalypse thumbs up.