Movie Review – Stake Land (2010)
Borrowing heavily from the zombie apocalypse movies that came before, 2010’s Stake Land substitutes mindless zombies for nearly as mindless feral vampires. Displaced former citizens of a defunct United States wander the dangerous landscape, avoiding bloodsuckers at night and a fanatical portion of mankind during daylight. Taking a note from George A. Romero, the vampires are dangerous but they’re more of a backdrop – it’s the human drama that moves the story. The script, written and directed by Jim Mickle and co-written by Nick Damici, who stars as Mister, attempts to focus more on the characters and their relationships.
The soundtrack for the film consists of classic Americana, from gospel to bluegrass. The music and much of the fashion evokes images from the Great Depression, particularly migrant workers, hungry and haggard, pulling together in shanty towns. Boarded-up businesses blight the streets and people often eat from salvaged canned goods. The story owes as much to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), with its “Okies” in search of work in California mirroring Stake Land’s inhabitants’ search for New Eden, as much as it does the plague-like vampire apocalypse of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954).
Stake Land summons the early twentieth century in other ways, notably in its depiction of race relations. Large areas have been taken over by a zealous cult known as The Brotherhood, which has adopted an Aryan form of vengeful Christianity. Crosses burn and the populace is terrorized. Additionally, a great deal of inspiration appears to have been taken from current Middle Eastern strife, where theocracies use religion as a weapon of oppression and terrorism. As Martin, our young narrator, laments after an attack: “And it was over like that. All of the goodness shattered by some Christian crazies…” Christianity runs amok – in a world of vampires, the cross is more terrifying to the living than to the undead. Religion has poisoned people’s minds and circumvented their empathy, making them as equally dangerous as the vamps.
Filmed with mostly realistic action, Stake Land succeeds in most of the things it sets out to do. The largest weakness of the film lies in its attempt to make The Brotherhood’s leader the main villain of the film, and in doing so it requires of its audience too much suspension of disbelief as the series of coincidences that need to arise to pull it off become ludicrous. Nevertheless, Stake Land succeeds in making vampires scary and wholly unsympathetic again, and for that I salute it.