Reviewed by Serena Whitney
Starring Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, Michael Cerveris, Connor Paolo, Bonnie Dennison
Directed by Jim Mickle
Three years ago newcomer Jim Mickle made a vibrant impression on the festival circuit with his fairly low budget and apocalyptic “were-rat” tale Mulberry Street, and since then gorehounds and film buffs have been patiently waiting for Mickle’s return to the director’s chair. Luckily the wait has ended, and Mickle premiered Stake Land to Midnight Madness attendees at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Beaming from the sheer joy of honouring his childhood dream of debuting his film at Midnight Madness, Mickle introduced Stake Land to the crowd, and it turned out to be a dream come true for us as well as it proved to be another surprise hit for Mickle and co. and will most likely get far more attention with its release next year.
Unlike its predecessor, Stake Land shows its fangs early on as the film starts with a teenager named Martin (Paolo) being rescued by a mysterious vampire slayer simply named “Mister” (played by co-writer Nick Damici) after a vampire has massacred Martin’s entire family. From then on Connor is immediately thrown into a world where his teenhood must be sacrificed for hours of vamp slaying training and cross-country trips to “vamp-free” zones for food and shelter in a post-apocalyptic world.
After hearing about a place called “New Eden,” a place that is believed to be free of vampires, Connor and Mister embark on a long journey up north, and along the way a nun (McGillis), a pregnant young woman (Harris), and a young man named Willie (Sean Nelson) tag along with the pair in hopes of finding “New Eden.” Unfortunately, they all soon discover that vampires are not the only evil things they have to worry about.
Mickle and Damici once again deliver a script full of substance, character development, and meaningful social commentary lacking in so many horror films today. Mickle matches the strengths to the script with lush cinematography, risk-taking camera shots, and an eye for detail that should impress any cynical critic despite the low budget.
Although it starts off with a bang by bounteously showcasing a horrific vampire massacre (so horrific that one of the actresses left the premiere because of it), Stake Land is not just a regular vamp thriller relying on its bite and copious amounts of plasma-filled action to entertain its audience. While it certainly has its share of grisly and morbid moments, Mickle’s sophomore effort to Mulberry Street doesn’t just focus on the violence but rather devotes itself to evoking feelings of dread and hope in the viewer.
The film’s dark and doom-laden tone definitely elevates the art of playing with the nerves and expectations of viewers to new heights. Once the audience gets to know each character, they will be terrified to see them meet peril. Stake Land is the film 30 Days of Night should have been as it makes viewers believe they are actually spending days, if not months, with the characters.
Viewers may be reminded of last year’s The Road and Zombieland when watching this film, but Stake Land proves it is a taut thriller replete with gripping emotion behind it, making it a worthy contender in any film buff’s mental rolodex.
4 out of 5
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