I was not expecting to like this film this much. I have a begrudging relationship with vampire films. I’m extremely hit or miss with them and it feels like they’re more often misses. Stake Land manages to be a hit. Stake Land is basically a zombie film, where the zombies have been replaced with feral vampires. Though that isn’t the only similarity with zombie films, which works just fine for me.
Stake Land opens after a global pandemic of vampirism has spread across the world killing or changing the majority of the population. With humans only surviving on the road or in small isolated communities. During a storm Martin’s (Connor Paolo) family is attacked by a lone vampire, resulting in the death of both his parents and their baby. Martin survives by being saved by a Mister (Nick Damici) a lone hunter. Mister takes Martin under his wing, training how to hunt and kill vampires along with survive in the new world. While traveling they rescue Sister (Kelly McGillis) a Nun, from a pair of rapists that are part of religious cult that defies Vampires. Killing one and leaving the other for dead, staked in the back. They are captured shortly after by the cult, led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris). Who happens to be that father of one of the men Mister killed saving Sister (The one he staked in the back) and sets to have his revenge on them. He leaves Mister in the middle of vamp land, while keeping Martin as slave and Sister for sex. Martin escapes with the consent of Sister and manages to reconnect with Mister, who has managed to survive. They continue to travel north to New Eden, AKA Canada, when the meet up with Belle (Danielle Harris). A pregnant woman trying to reach New Eden before her child is born. They then rescue Willie (Sean Nelson) from a portable toilet, having been left as Vamp bait by the cult. The four continue north, bonding and fighting the occasional vampire and dogging the Cult that’s out looking for Mister. Mister, Martin and the others ambush a cult roadblock, attacking and subduing Jebedia. They leave him tied to a tree, bait for the vampires he so reveres. At the next town they find Sister, who manged to escape the cult, just before the cult rains down vampires onto the town from a helicopter. The group now whole, continues their trip to New Eden, but after their truck breaks down it becomes apparent they are being stalked by a new breed of vampire… one that can think.
What I love is the zombie connection in this film. Mindless undead? Check. Bleak future living in the ruins of the old world? Check. A group of survivors trying to make their way bound together by shared comradery? Oh yes. Mainly what I love is the how character focused the film is. As while none of them are explored deeply, their relationships to one another is where this film shines.
The effects are super solid. The vampires are great, looking unsettling and have their own rules under which they function. Even with built-in exceptions as vampire mutations are a thing. Though beyond fangs it doesn’t take much to sell a vampire to me. Also they behave how you would expect, stakes to heart kill them and so does sunlight. While the making them mindless adds an interesting twist that sets them apart enough to be new, while maintaining the comfort of the old.
Final thoughts, I really loved this film. It’s a bit of a slow burn at the start, but once the ball is rolling the ride really starts. The characters, at least the main ones are very like-able. All the actors do an outstanding job, playing into the world and making it feel believable. I would recommend this film. It comes with a smidgen of gore and plenty of story. 9/10