Stake Land Review

A post apocalyptic daydream is a wonderful thing. Imagining yourself wandering around the city you’ve known so well after some disaster that’s picked off every man, woman and terrier you’ve ever kissed, fucked or stroked. Not necessarily accordingly.

It’s a dream that takes you with it. You get caught up and your brain starts surprising you with how much detail it can offer.

You can see yourself skipping around, looting, driving and crashing buses. Eating buckets of free pheasant. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? But spend enough time dreaming and reality sneaks in like a rat chewing on your winning lottery ticket.

It would be unthinkably lonely.

Imagine the feeling of her or him leaving you for good at Christmas in the flat you’ve shared, putting out the fire with some cheap brand cola and ripping up your favourite “us” photo.

Then multiply it by every lonely-hearts column printed between 1975 and now.

That desolate feeling is something all films with an apocalypse in their plot focus on. Lots of scenes of empty streets, decaying buildings. And it works; 28 days later did it brilliantly. In other cases, it simply makes up for the lack of decent dialogue. Anyone remember Tripods?

Stake Land, an apocalyptic zombie film, has plenty of these.

Telling the story of master and apprentice battling against a world overrun by zombie vampires, Stake Land tries to convey more than just blood and groans. It gives us the difficult relationship between Mister and his protégé Martin who together are trying crossing the country, staking zombies, picking up survivors and searching for someplace safe.

The relationship isn’t easy and is fraught with individual internal struggles, hardly ever spoken, just conveyed through their eyes. Martin loses his parents to the local zombies so Mister takes him on to fight the good fight. They have a pseudo parental relationship that doesn’t come easily to either of them, never more beautifully illustrated than when apprentice tries to get a hug from his weary master.

The old man is not a hugger.

The world has been left in tatters by an epidemic that swept through every nation, turning sweet Mrs Smith who owns the butchers down the road into a twisted, bloodthirsty nuisance. There are humans left, but as we discover they’re more problematic than those obsessed with eating your face.

Like so many films of this ilk, Stake Land has its fair share of predictable moments. Cinematically speaking, we’ve been here a few times already; with better and worse results.

The problem is Stake Land fits rather snuggly in between these good and not so good efforts, with nothing remarkable about one way or the other to force it up or down this ladder. Which is a shame because unlike a lot of similar films, director Jim Mickle hints more at the relationships behind all the slaughter only to fail and explore the thoroughly enough.

Like the monsters of Stake Land, he kills them all too quickly.

The bond between Mister and Martin, played by Nick Dimici and Connor Paolo respectively, could have really been interesting as the two characters clearly find it difficult being vulnerable.

But, typically, they throw a girl into the mix to keep things safe. You can almost see the studio getting edgy behind the scenes and, worried about losing half their audience, making mainstream demands.

We see this more and more in our creative mediums; good ideas compromised by someone who wants to appeal to everyone.

Walking out of the cinema, there was a real sense of how Stake Land could have been something more than how it turned out. It looks good, with scenes that make you feel as lost as the characters and the disorientating situation they find themselves in.

But, after a promising first half, Mickle simply whips out the tried and tested guidebook for horror films; following through with every tired expectation of this genre, before wrapping everything up a little too neatly at the end.

The studio’s behind these kinds of movies should realise that everyone can relate to a post apocalyptic film now, and they need to come up with something that puts a little more flesh on the bones of our imaginations.

The daydream is universal; everyone thinks about it. We don’t need a happy ending.

Tim Green

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June 2011
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