Roaming around the food chain, indie director Jim Mickle and his co-writer, actor Nick Damici, leave the zombie-rat infestation of their earlier collaboration Mulberry Street for a Homo sapiens vampire epidemic in the familiar but nicely crafted Stake Land.
It is a film of many ploooooches, meaning: stake in the chest? Ploooooch goes the sound effect. Yank it out again: ploooooch. Wipe. Rinse. Repeat.It is also a disarmingly somber treatment of the sort of thing the recentZombieland
, whose zombies weren’t so behaviorally different from the vampires here, treated for laughs (and good ones). Tonally, Mickle strives for the end-of-the-line gravity of Cormac McCarthy’sThe Road
. The vampires have overrun America, leaving the few surviving humans to fend for themselves, to the tune of mournful solo piano on the soundtrack. A wily, stoical vampire-slayer known only as Mister, played by Damici, is determined to head north via the back roads to a place called New Eden, where a new, vampire-free life can begin.In the grisly prologue, teenage Martin (Connor Paolo) becomes an orphan and is more or less adopted, like a dog, by Mister. Like so many post-apocalyptic scenarios,Stake Land
concerns how this young survivor acquires a replacement family under extreme societal duress. Other survivors include the pregnant, saintly Belle (Danielle Harris) and a nun played by Kelly McGillis who must contend with a self-appointed savior of a cult leader (Michael Cerveris, more subtle than you’d expect in a role like this).The acting’s quite good, especially in the supporting ranks. I could’ve done without Martin’s stricken descriptions of the obvious (“we were on our own now, me and Mister … traveling through a ruined land”). But there is one particularly pleasing extended tracking shot, a musical interlude — a hoedown — interrupted by vampires. Mickle orchestrates the action cleverly and moves his camera (the lightweight, agile RED digital) with a sure sense of authority. Elsewhere we don’t get much conspicuously interesting work of visual interest inStake Land
; it’s more about the cutting and the ploooooching. But Mickle has talent, and the end credits include a character known as “French Canadian Cannibal,” which is worth a half-star right there.
Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Michael Cerveris, Danielle Harris, Sean Nelson.
Director: Jim Mickle.
Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle.
Producers: Adam Folk, Brent Kunkle, Peter Phok, Larry Fessenden.
An IFC Midnight release. Running time: 98 minutes. Vampire violence. In Miami Dade only: Cosford.