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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #218

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Sub-Genre: Vampire/Road Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $625,000
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Jim Mickle
Producers: Derek Curl, Larry Fessenden
Screenplay: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle
Special Effects: Brian Spears, Pete Gerner
Visual Effects: David Isyomin, Jim Mickle
Cinematography: Ryan Samul
Score: Jeff Grace
Editing: Jim Mickle
Studio: Belladonna Productions
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Stars: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Michael Cerveris, Sean Nelson, Bonnie Dennison, Gregory Jones, Traci Hovel, James Godwin, Tim House, Marianne Hagan, Stuart Rudin, Adam Scarimbolo, Vonia Arslanian, Heather Robb, Eilis Cahill, Larry Fessenden, Chance Kelly, Angelique Biasutto, Jean Brassard, Adam Folk, Lou Sumrall, Phyllis Bash

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Jeff Grace New Eden

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We are often posed the question “what would we do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?” and the hugely popular The Walking Dead has provided us with a survival handbook the likes of which acts as bible to the droves of “dead heads” who follow it religiously. Jim Mickle, whose debut outing Mulberry Street offered more of a pamphlet than full-blown almanac, has decided that it is about time we begin to consider this post-apocalyptic conundrum with vampires as opposed to walkers. Indeed, to add a little extra spice he creates a hybrid, namely the Berserker, which has traits of both just to keep things interesting. Now how’s that for a rolling start?

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His vision for Stake Land is suitably bleak. Mankind is faltering and has been forced into cohabiting the barren wastelands of America with these blood-sucking freaks of nature gone awry. Regular currency has been replaced by a different tender. A money pouch of dislodged vampire gnashers will buy you a room for the night or earn you a skinful in the local tavern. Safety zones are barricaded fortresses and outside of these sanctuaries lies open expanses where hunting is considered fair game and where no humans would dare dwell. As backdrops go, we could hardly wish for one more custom-made.

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Our tale follows Martin (Connor Paolo) a young lad who, upon witnessing the slaughter of his parents, is taken under the wing of vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici) and heads off in his care as the grizzled veteran instructs him on the skills required to survive in the wastelands. En route they bolster their numbers, picking up nun on the run Sister Anna (Kelly McGillis), pregnant Belle (Danielle Harris), and former marine Willie (Sean Nelson) and commence their pilgrimage to reported utopia New Eden.

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Mickle and Damici, who co-wrote Stake Land together, focus more on characterization than anything else and this takes his project to the next level, elevating it over fellow dystopian vampire movies such as Daybreakers in the process. Take Mister, he looks bad ass and acts accordingly but, peel that surface layer away, and we are presented with a thoughtful savior with whom we wish to undertake this perilous journey across the badlands. In addition, McGinnis gives a beautifully understated performance as Anna and what could I possibly say about Danielle Harris which wouldn’t be dictated by my pulsating loins? Indeed, each of the family plays their part making it all the more heartbreaking when the apple cart is rocked.

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Then there is the looming threat of nomadic religious nut Jebedia and his clan of extremist shit kickers. Michael Cerveris is majestic as the leader of this rowdy rabble although not enough is done to allow his character to develop and he flits in and out of proceedings at will. Nevertheless, his branch overhangs our idyllic picture of a hopeful tomorrow consistently throughout.

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When violence comes, as it does with impressive regularity and tenacity, it is superbly realized and unremitting, whilst making glimpses of the carnage fleeting to keep the action brisk. Ryan Samul’s capable photography captures the barren despair of the desolate landscape and Jeff Grace’s baroscopic score fits exquisitely. Considering this was made for a modest $625m what Mickle and team achieve is worthy of great plaudits.

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Interestingly, producers, Glass Eye Pix, crafted seven prequel webisodes to coincide with the release of the film, shedding more light on the apocalyptic world depicted here and fleshing out certain characters. If I had one gripe about Stake Land, it wouldn’t be so much of a moan as a plea. We want more, there are sturdy legs in this concept and it always feels a little like we are watching a full-length pilot to a larger picture.

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Often folk cite this as being nothing more than Zombieland with vampires but I would be inclined more to suggest that it is on an even keel with The Walking Dead in terms of tappable potential should the characters explored here be developed further. Paolo’s Martin, for instance, undergoes a subtle transformation throughout proceedings and, before the close, has completed his voyage into manhood. Now go Mickle and populate your dystopian world further, the groundwork is done and Stake Land is a rather fine entrée.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Plenty of staking of course but, considering the berserkers require a good strong blow to the base of their skull to finish them, it gets a lot messier than more traditional vampiric works. The splatter is handled superbly and there is ample to share around like the bloodthirsty nightcrawlers we all are.

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Read Daybreakers Appraisal
Read Zombieland Appraisal
Read The Lost Boys Appraisal
Read Near Dark Appraisal

 

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