If I have a problem with Stake Land, the new post-apocalyptic action movie opening this weekend, it’s that the film just isn’t very driven. I’ll give you a moment to appreciate the irony.
It’s the future, again, and America has been infected by a plague, again, turning everyone into vampires, agai… Wait… That part’s actually a little new. Stake Land tells the story of Martin, whose name I choose to believe is a pop culture reference, a teenager whose parents are slaughtered during the initial outbreak. Martin’s own life is saved by a mysterious stranger named ‘Mister,’ whom I choose to believe was one half of the act that performed ‘Broken Wings.’ Martin quickly becomes Mister’s apprentice. It seems that Mister is a vampire hunter, and probably was one before it became fashionable, so he knows how to kill the beasts better than anybody else. Together they band together to drive very long distances.
Stake Land is one of those post-apocalyptic travelogue movies in which the protagonists are in search of something precious: dry land, fertile women, oil, you name it. But in Stake Land the destination never seems very important to the heroes. They’re en route to a place called ‘New Eden’ which may be free from the vampire infection, but they never talk about it, never opine that it’s the actual solution to their problems. It’s just something to do, apparently. That’s a pretty fair critique of the film itself: it’s something to do, and possibly worth doing, but devoid of passion.
Martin’s played by Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo, and Mister by The Black Donnelly’s Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the script. They are largely silent protagonists and carry the film well with their looks of concern and despair, but they are not terribly interesting individuals, and don’t seem to grow terribly much over the course of the film, which takes them from Point A through Point B, which is an interesting enough journey, but it has minimal concern with Point C, where they ultimately end up. Early on an ancillary character warns them that New Eden might not be all it’s cracked up to be, and warns them of roving cannibals, whom they never seem to run into. The film, as I’ve said, just isn’t that involved in its own plot.
But before it ends Stake Land takes them on a series of interesting side adventures, make no mistake. They run afoul of a group of cultists who worship a slight bastardization of the Greatest American Hero logo and believe that the vampires are a cleansing fire sent by the Lord, who will be cured once their job is done. They’re led by the pleasingly named Jebediah Loven, played by Fringe’s Michael Cerveris, who tracks our heroes across the country because they murdered his son who, in Mister and Martin’s defense, had recently raped Top Gun’s Kelly McGillis. Loven’s presence, however, is limited to when he’s actually on-screen. For the most part he’s not a going concern for Mister and Martin, which prevents him from ever feeling like a significant threat. Michael Cerveris imbues the character with a quiet, creepy energy but the script lets his character down by not using him to drive the story forward, or using much of anything else for that matter.
The vampires themselves are of the mindless, feral variety, and for all intents and purposes are little more than fast zombies with a sun allergy. They make for some exciting and well-crafted action sequences – including a particularly nifty one in which Loven airdrops them into a peaceful settlement – but they lack any character of their own. Aside from the traditional vampire gimmicks, like the omnipresent stakes, they feel interchangeable with almost any other formerly human movie monster. The movie could have been rewritten to feature an America overrun with werewolves with minimal effort, aside from renaming it Silver Land. It’s not an awful thing, and the movie works reasonably well as it stands, but it’s a missed opportunity to provide the interesting conceit with a distinctive energy.
Actually, I find myself writing this review with a distinctive lack of energy myself. I liked Stake Land, and other horror movie enthusiasts will enjoy it too, but the film never feels like it really needed to be made. It’s a decent genre exercise without much of a point, with fine performances and memorable moments of action, and for some that will be enough. Is enough enough for you? If so, seek out Stake Land. If not, hold out for something a little sharper.
Crave Online Rating: 6.5/10