It seems like I’ve been waiting for Stake Land for at least two years now. The moment I laid eyes on the first trailer, I knew that this was the vampire film that I had been waiting on. It’s hard to be a fan of the sub-genre, as most things related have been terrible, especially for the last decade or so. There have been a few surprises here and there, but for the most part, it’s difficult to find a good vampire flick. Either it ends up being to “mystical”, if you will, or too cheesy to deliver the intended effect. It may sound like a canned answer, but it’s easy for me to say that “Near Dark” is my favorite vampire movie. It touches on the romantic aspect of the lore very briefly, while managing to be gritty, and grimy enough to rope a guy like me in. There’s nothing romantic about Stake Land. The world has turned to shit, and we follow a rough group of characters as they try desperately to find the strength to carry on for another day.
The first thing that I would like to touch on is the environment created by this film. Normally, human kind functions as normal, as vampires lurk in the darkness selecting their meal with care. Here, humanity has been destroyed. All forms of government and infrastructure have been abandoned, and if you were lucky enough to survive the initial vampire infestation, you’re crawling around on your last leg. It’s almost like a vampire film set in a zombie universe. Usually, for some unknown reasons, zombies get to cause more damage than vampires. You would think it would be the opposite, as easy as it is to lay a zombie to waste. Vampires are far superior hunters, and if an unstoppable wave of vampires was really released on the world’s population, near eradication would ensue. It felt like vampires had finally been given the proper respect that they deserve.
Almost as dangerous as the bloodsuckers, are the weaker minded survivors that have flocked to christian fundamentalist cults. Some may say that the portrayal of these individuals is a bit hyperbolic, but to anyone that follows current events, and are familiar with groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, you won’t feel like it’s a stretch at all. When people are put into dire situations, they tend to cling to their superstitions even more tightly than before. It’s funny, the people that are supposedly spreading god’s message end up being the most ungodly people you could possibly encounter. One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain – “If Jesus were alive today, the last thing he’d be is a christian.” This speaks volumes as to the evolution of christianity, and religious fundamentalism as a whole. Evolution, as in, these groups haven’t evolved much past their days of cowering in a cave, worshiping the sun god. Too many people quote scripture, yet live a life full of judgment that would shame their supposed savior. I felt like this was portrayed rather well in Stake Land, and at times, these characters were more menacing than the vamps.
On top of being a vampire film, and a post-apocalyptic survival film, Stake Land is also a coming of age tale. Mister(Nick Damici) happens across a young boy(Connor Paolo), right after his parents and infant sibling are devoured by a vampire. Mister decides to take him(Martin) under his wing, and teach him how to survive. The relationship that develops between these two character is very believable. Surrogate father and son, making the best of a fucked-up situation. Other characters are introduced, and other strong relationships are formed, but at the root of the story is a man, trying to pass his wisdom on to a child, so that he can be prepared for the world that’s in front of him. It’s a surprisingly touching story, that most viewers wouldn’t expect from a film like this. It’s one of the many things that elevates this movie to something much bigger than an average b-movie creature feature.
Some will surely disagree with my summation of Stake Land, especially considering the score that I’m about to award it. If you ask me though, it’s the best vampire film I’ve seen in decades, possibly the best since Near Dark in 87. I had enormous expectations going in to this movie, and they were met, and actually exceeded. It’s sad that a film like this has a hard time finding distribution, does a very short, very limited theatrical run, and gets dumped on VOD/DVD. Meanwhile, pieces of shit like Legion are greenlit, and advertised like the cure for small penis syndrome. I would have loved to experience Stake Land with an audience, but I’m just happy that I was finally able to see it for myself. If you like your vampire films dirty, brutal, vicious, you have a real treat ahead of you.