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Stake Land

Yes, there are vampires, but not the garden-variety sexy teens or swellegant Euros.

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Stake Land

Directed by Jim Mickle

Dark Sky DVD and Blu-ray

It seems that the only sort of horror more popular than the zombie-apocalypse flick these days is the vampire flick, and on its face, Stake Land looks a bit like a craven cash-grab combo platter of the two, with a side of The Road thrown in. Once writer/director Jim Mickle’s film gets going in earnest, however, it stakes out (ba-dum-tsst) its own patch of turf in the contempo gore-spattered landscape.

So, yes, there are vampires, but not the garden-variety sexy teens or swellegant Euros. These bloodsuckers are gnarly-looking, bestial, driven only by instinct and impulse, and they’re everywhere—like, picture your typical zombie movie and then imagine all the zombies with fangs. The United States has been plunged into a new dark age with only a handful of well-armed souls hanging on, and through this nightmare world travel Mister (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote) and Martin (Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo)—the former a taciturn road warrior/vampire slayer who carries a stake in a shoulder holster, the latter the young teenager he saves from slaughter and adopts as his vamp-killing squire. They’re on their way to New Eden, the rumored vampire-free haven in Canada, but they find themselves with more to worry about than abundant bloodsucking freaks and the occasional hapless tag-alongs (including Kelly McGillis and Danielle Harris) when they cross a cult/gang of violent millennial-Christian yahoos led by the B-movie-hall-of-fame-named Jebedia Loven (a scenery-chewing Michael Cerveris).

It sounds like late-night cable dreck, to be sure. But Stake Land emerges in part under the auspices of Glass Eye Pix, the production shingle of neo-horror maven Larry Fessenden, who has built a rep for advancing smart, well-crafted genre fare that nonetheless delivers the goods (see also: The House of the Devil, The Last Winter). The brand is in good hands here. There’s a certain blue-collar grit and air of workaday end-of-the-world reality (cf. The Road) to Mister and Martin’s picaresque journey that grounds the proceedings. Indeed, like so much good horror, Stake Land gains extra power because of its resonance with larger societal fears—in this case, fanatics and religious wackos destroying what’s left of the civilized world for spite. And even though the characters don’t get much in the way of back story or dialogue, Mickle uses subtleties—e.g., wordlessly contrasting Mister’s top-predator sexual success to his charge’s budding pubescent desires—to animate the cursory relationships and fill out the contours of the story. He even comes up with a satisfying ending that neither makes you roll your eyes nor closes the door on a sequel. In a phrase, he nails it.

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