Midnight Movie: Stakeland Review
by Bret Dorman
I’m as sure as the night is young that I’m not the first, only, or last Midnight Movie Goer to daydream about what I would do in a Zombie Apocalypse. My daydream goes mostly like the hit Capcom video game, Dead Rising, in which anything and everything can be used as a weapon. There’s no real consequences and I skip through most the boring parts.
Unfortunately ‘real’ like doesn’t work that way. In real life, if a Zombie Apocalypse were to occur, it would be filled with a lot of boring moments. A lot of walking around and after a while even conversation between me and whoever had survived with me would diminish. However, no matter how boring life remained, at every moment we would need to be on our toes. Never know when one of those suckers will pop out and even meeting people we would have to be skeptical.
Fortunately, ‘reel’ life can incorporate all this and have lots of the good stuff like blood and guts and a mentor who is badass. Enter: Stake Land.
The Story: Young Kid Martin, finds himself under the guide of Mister, a mostly silent, one sentence speaking kind of man, amidst the chaos of a Vampire Apocalypse. Along the way they meet crazy cult members and desperate bystanders. Also, the best and most effective way to kill the vamps is with a stake… to the heart.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Bret, you mention Zombies in The Preface then in The Story you mention Vampires. What gives?” Well, technically these things are vampires because the like blood, only come out at night, and have fangs, but essentially this movie as all the markings of a Zombie movie. One staple that hits big in this one is the idea that in the time of an apocalypse, people are still busy fighting each other. Another thing that makes these Vamps like Zombs is that they don’t really show any sort of thinking process and once turned become mindless… well, zombies.
Which brings up the heart of Stake Land. Stake Land is not about romanticizing Vampires in any way. Movies like Interview with a Vampire and to a much lesser extent Twilight make their Vamps heart throbs to swoon over. Stake Land doesn’t even romanticize the action. In Blade II, every time Blade cut down an enemy they disintegrated into a sparkly confetti like burst. Even the new summer movie Priest, whose Vamps are more bug-like that human, tries so hard to make an ‘exciting thrill ride’ out of its story.
But not Stake Land, which sets up its character for misery in a miserable world and makes them fight just to survive so they can… fight to survive again. The characters in this movie spend most of their time striving or fighting to live without actually being able to enjoy life itself.
The actual message of Stake Land seems pretty mundane in relation to all this. In the Stake Land, there’s a couple of nice cities with honest hardworking people and the rest is basically crazy hillbilly religious cult territory. The cults rape women and ‘convert’ members by leaving them out with the vamps. One scene actually has them ambushing a group by praying on their sympathies and several others have them ‘forcibly’ expanding into the cities. They’ve even taken over Washington.
The movie does not paint these religious nut bags in a good light. But then again nothing is painted in a good light. For what it’s worth, the cinematography is pretty decent and tries its best to replicate a bigger budget movie, but taking all the color out of this movie all drains it of some of its life. The movie, much like the characters, strive for something it can’t have, in this case a bigger budget. Instead of embracing it, they try to mask it.
Be prepared for long stretches of silence and/or somber voice over narration where the main kid tells you what’s happening, which most of the time is nothing. Luckily, there are a good handful number of action/kill scenes. They are short in length and not as gleefully gory as one would hope but they are gritty. One of the better set pieces comes near the end at a more unexpected time and place, but is done really well.
Most of the characters are void of any real personality or traits. The kid has a couple of moments where he is alone, replicating the actions of Mister, but for the most part the characters just don’t have the time or scenes to become fully fleshed out. Its mostly the main kid and Mister we get to know. And Mister is definitely the crowd pleaser of the movie. Most of the time he is squinting off in the distance like Eastwood or Bronson and sort of growling ad scowling out his lines. Where does he come from and what’s his purpose? Who knows? He is the films strongest cinematic attribute, a true myth amongst men.
Most of Mister’s lines are corny-awesome enough to get a chuckle or two. There’s one moment where he is talking to a rescued nun and every line is basically ‘I don’t care. I’m awesome’. He is always the first one everyone turns to to save him. Again, its the limitations of the budget that prevent him from having bigger action moments to get bigger applause during the film, but the heart is there.
Stake Land was this weeks add on Midnight Movie and if you missed it there might be a chance Music Box will show it again in the near future?
Why You Must See It At Midnight: Stake Land isn’t the summer blockbuster action vamp flick you go out during the day to see, coming out to the warm sunlight. You go see it at midnight and come out when its prime Vamp hour. What the movie lacks in on screen flair you can make up for by watching in a full crowd. Its a grim reminder of how crummy a real Zombie… er, Vampire Apocalypse would be.