Stake Land & Stake Land II: Stakelander, Netflix
A Bedsit Cinema double-bubble treat! For those of you unfamiliar with the Stake Land films, the vampire apocalypse duo are on Netflix. I watched them both, because all I have is spare time.
Stake Land (2010)
Tagline: The Most Dangerous Thing Is To Be Alive. I get they're trying to convey fear and threat, but this is a bit vague. The quote I use below would have been better. Too late now though, they should have asked. Boat. Missed.
Premise: Set in the wastelands of the southern USA after a vampire apocalypse, a young man called Martin meets a mysterious vampire hunter called Mister who rescues him as his family are savaged. Martin becomes the Squire to Mister's Knight and the two set out on a journey from the south to “New Eden” (Canada). They are beset by vampires and a quasi-Klan group of religious nut-job racists “The Brotherhood” along the way.
Delivery: “All that goodness, shattered.”
I am a big fan of Stake Land writer/ director Jim Mickle. His films since Stake Land have been worth seeking out, too, but this is still my favourite. Cold in July is a twisty, violent thriller (a little like Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin) and We Are What We Are, is an acceptably grim US remake of the original Mexican film about a family of cannibals. He's one of those directors who I always check to see what their next project is.
What Stake Land does well is to create an atmospheric world, full myth, mystery and little glimpses in the dialogue of the history of the vampire apocalypse which has occurred. Considering the indie status and small budget ($625,000) Mickle works wonders building a story which is reminiscent of the tone in Max Brooks' World War Z (read it, if you haven't). The acting is mostly above par for this sort of film, there is emotional resonance and a slight coming of age theme.
Oh, and there's also bloody vamp carnage, a road trip and digs at the KKK in the onion bag clad semi- government “The Botherhood”; who are almost as terrifying as the vampires themselves. One scene in particular, sees a town ruined from above by The Brotherhood, and it's so well put together and shot. Tense, brutal and sad, it is the centrepiece of Stake Land for me, and far above what one might normally expect from this fare. That's all I'll say but it speaks to the strength of the team behind Stake Land. The film as a whole is not perfect, but who wants perfect? It is wonderfully free and creative.
Bedsit it? I first watched Stake Land some years back, not really expecting much. It is my sort of thing, sure, but so many film makers cock up “my sort of thing”, and the film makers here did not. Not only has it become a repeat watch but the further films of Mickle's have, too. Stake Land is the reason I continue to rummage around for gems. 8/10
Stake Land II: The Stakelander
Tagline: Death is no escape. No, but the pause button is.
Premise: Some years on from the end of the first film, Martin's new family are murdered (again, the poor boy) and he goes in search of Mister (also again). However, Martin is now a much more fully formed vampire killing bad-ass and Mister seems to be losing his edge. Or is he? Clue: Nick Damici who plays Mister wrote the film.
Delivery: “You better not be lying boy, because I'm in a dick shooting mood today.”
Stake Land II (I'm not going to use the ridiculous construct they slapped on the end of the title), is not directed by Jim Mickle, but frankly you wouldn't expect it to be given he has gone on to bigger things. Dan Berk and Robert Olsen split duties in the chair instead. I was in hospital and bored so I decided to watch as I enjoyed the first one, hoping that it would be nothing like the vampire sequel abomination that was 30 Days of Night: Dark Days.
In complete honesty, however, I wasn't expecting Stake Land II to be much good at all. But it caught me up quite quickly in its gory story. Yes it's more ridiculous than the first, it isn't as well written, the acting and budget stretched too thin, the plot jumps all over the place and the dialogue takes a turn towards the comedic (see above). But Berk and Olsen, directors, not speaker manufacturers, up the western feel to good effect. Where the first film was tonally more World War Z (book) and The Road (book and film) this feels more like a John Ford vampire film. I'm aware he never made one, but it would've been fun to see.
One thing which I couldn't stop laughing at, in a so bad it's funny way, was A.C. Peterson's character. The man is playing an elderly vampire hunter, I get that he's past his best, but Peterson is so obviously overweight and short on breath that he's labouring to breath just walking around. It just made me chuckle, how much use is he going to be in a fight with an army of hyper mobile vampires? He's wheezing delivering lines, while stationary!
Bedsit it? If you enjoyed the first Stake Land, you'll probably still enjoy this. Not as much, sure, but it isn't heinous. Stake Land II has its faults, cliché and predictability being two of them. But the acting is mostly good and there is a well constructed emotional core as in the first film. See the original before the sequel though, obviously. 6/10