Although I really didn't know anything about it going in, on the surface Stake Land seemed to promise a familiar ride. A mysterious, stoic traveler and his teenage protege wage a bloody fight for survival while traveling through a post-apocalyptic American landscape infested with vampires. *yawn* Nothing wrong with a little riffing on the classic I Am Legend premise, mind you, but let's face it: this is territory that's been covered ad nauseam in the last decade. Just minutes in, I could see what was coming: swap the vampires for zombies and Stake Land was going to be Zombieland, minus that film's big budget, big names, and frat house sense of humor.
Shows what I know.
(Insert obvious pain-in-the-neck joke here)
Turns out, Stake Land is very much its own film and what's more, it's damn good- even great in spots. In fact, I was kind of floored by how much i enjoyed it. Jim Mickle's screenplay may not be anything to write home about in the originality department, but as a director he clearly knows how to get maximum value out of a scene. Because so much essential information is conveyed from that actions of the characters, Stake Land manages to avoid slipping in to the tar put of unnecessary exposition (a trap especially common to the apoco-horror sub genre). I've never seen Mickle's other full length feature, Mulberry St (from After Dark's 2007 batch), but I definitely plan on hunting it down soon.
Kelly McGillis hasn't aged a..well, she's still cool, anyway.
By the same taken, I was largely unfamiliar with the cast here (and considering this is a horror movie blog, shouldn't I know this shit?), but they all turn in understated and effective performances. The badass antihero, referred to only as Mister, is conveyed with considerable menace by Nick Damici (and don't try and act all cool like you know who he is, unless you actually do, in which case my hat's off to you). His teen sidekick, Martin, is played by some kid named Connor Paolo, who I apparently would have recognized if I watched Gossip Girl, which I don't. But you know who's hanging around here that I do recognize? Kelly Friggin' McGillis, that's who! I hadn't seen her anything in forever, and even though she's changed quite a bit and doesn't have a whole lot to do here, just seeing her on the screen again gave me a brief nostalgia buzz (I mean, damn: Witness, Top Gun, The Accused...the lady was on a serious roll in the 80s).
So...what were we talking about? Right. Stake Land is a definite recommendation here. It may look like same ol' same ol', but trust me: everything about it is a cut above. And speaking of cutting, there's some good stuff going on with these vampires. If you're as sick of the over-stylized metrosexual weenie sacks that pass for vampires in things like True Blood (yeah, I was gonna say Twilight, but that horse has been dead for a while), you'll love these nasty...uh...things. Taking a que from films like 28 Days Later and 30 Days of Night, the vamps of Stake Land creep around at night in a sort of ravenous delirium. They cannot be bargained or reasoned with. It's either you or them, which is exactly as it should be.