Toronto Review: Jim Mickle's Vampire Road Film 'Stake Land'
by Alex Billington
September 18, 2010
I think I found my favorite Midnight Madness film of 2010. Vampires have become an overused, cliched and tired "villain" in genre flicks recently, but that doesn't mean an indie gem can't come along and prove that a great vampire flick can be dark, bloody, and badass once again, and that's exactly what Stake Land does. The best way to describe this would be to say it's like The Road, but not as bleak, and with a vampire epidemic being the cause of the apocalypse. That's an odd reference, but it's exactly what this is like, as it follows a vampire killer and his teen protege as they travel North to "New Eden" fending off nasty vamps.
Stake Land, directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Jim Mickle, follows Martin (Connor Paolo) and his ass kickin' Josh Brolin-lookalike mentor known as "Mister" (Nick Damici), as they journey through a desolate America now overrun by ugly vampires. Along the way they start to collect a few other stragglers, including a "Sister" (Kelly McGillis), a pretty pregnant teen girl (Danielle Harris) and eventually a former marine (Sean Nelson). The vampires in Stake Land are more like zombie-vampire hybrids, who do want to suck on human blood, but are as dumb and vicious as the flesh-hungry undead. Mickle has done a fantastic job of crafting an entire post-apoc world, full of religious tribes and safe havens, and it's fun to see them travel through it.
As his sophomore effort, Mickle has crafted an immensely entertaining, atmospheric, action-filled vampire road movie that does kick some serious ass. Damici, who I've never seen before, steals the show as Mister and is always the guy you're rooting for to kill more vampires as often as possible. I really had no clue what to expect going in, but I loved every last minute of this, even when it takes detours to a few quieter pit stops. There's a bit of a Joss Whedon influence as well with a western vibe to a lot of the scenes, but it still has its own unique style and I'm now a supporter of Jim Mickle. There's an awesome scene where they're in a small town and suddenly helicopters fly in and angry heretics start dropping down live vampires into the streets.
Out of all the midnight movies I've seen in Toronto, Stake Land is one of the few that truly feels and looks much bigger and more expensive than its budget, which is again a testament to its superb direction. There's a great score to go along with all of the gorgeous cinematography, some impressive fight scenes (although Mickle could use a little work improving his action scenes) and at least two strong characters that are easily likable and exciting to follow. It's a kick ass vampire flick that reminds me why we all used to love vampires, especially seeing them get a wooden stake in their heart, and if you want more of that too, don't miss this!
Alex's Toronto Rating: 9 out of 10