Unmistakably influenced by the bleakness of John Hillcoat’s 2009 film The Road, Jim Mickle’s vampire plague movie Stake Land is an atmospheric and pleasantly compelling tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The story is set in America after a plague of vampires has turned the country into a desolated waste land, dotted with small locked-down communities and scared survivors. When Martin’s (Connor Paolo) parents succumb to a vampire attack, the boy is taken under the wing of a grizzled drifter known only as ‘Mister’ (Nick Damici).
Together they must make their way north towards Canada, traveling through a post-apocalyptic America where both blood-suckers and religious zealots come to threaten their lives. Along the way, they create bonds with a hopeless nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant folk singer (Danielle Harris), and an ex-Marine (Sean Nelson) left to die by a group of racist Christian extremists.
Director Jim Mickle is obviously a promising filmmaker, crafting an impressively moody and vivid post-apocalyptic world featuring desolate landscape, abandoned towns and small beacons of civilization. Despite the modest $4 million budget that was at his disposal, an omnipresent feeling of constant death and isolation is accomplished in a very economical manner through the evocative cinematography and set design.
While the movie starts off a bit unevenly and does suffer from some pacing issues, Mickle otherwise spends most of his efforts on developing characters we care about, getting solid performances from his cast. The best moments of the movie happen during the quieter scenes, when Mister teaches Martin how to kill vampires, or when the two get some respite before the cold reality of their world sets in again. This is a low-key indie that intelligently avoids piling on vampire action mayhem and theorizes that even in this ravaged world, the biggest threat to one’s well-being is still your fellow man.
Stake Land is the movie Zombieland should have been.
Notes: Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity.