Stake Land (2010, 1hr 38 mins)
Amidst this nasty flu outbreak, I found it only fitting to watch something that involved some sort of plague running rampant and decimating humanity as we know it. Because I’m sure if you have the current strain of flu, you feel like a monster. So I checked out the 2010 TIFF Midnight Madness Cadillac People’s Choice winner Stake Land, and was pleasantly surprised, if one can be with this type of bleak storyline.
We follow the journey of teenage narrator Martin (Connor Paolo) and hard-boiled traveller Mister (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the script) as they make their way across America. Their road trip might be considered run of the mill, however, they are seeking asylum from a nasty plague that turns people into violent, bloodthirsty vampires. They actually meet as Martin and his family prepare to head for the hills when the outbreaks have become worse. Unfortunately, Martin’s parents and baby sibling get attacked by a nasty vamp, and he is narrowly rescued by Mister. Shaken, Martin travels with Mister and is schooled in the ways of vamp killing and hand to hand combat. Their goal is to head north to Canada, or New Eden, where the climate keeps the nasty chompers away.
They come across tiny guarded towns where they refuel and have some human contact, and along the way rescue a nun who is only known as Sister (played by an amazing Kelly McGillis) from some crazed rapists. We later find out they are part of a cult called the Brotherhood, which has taken over most of the area. These geniuses think that the vamps are the work of God, and ambush Mister, Sister and Martin. Their leader, Jebedia Loven (Fringe’s Michael Cerveris), is offended that the trio is killing these God sent vamps, and angry that Mister has dispatched his rapist son, so he throws a wrench in their plans. Actually, Jebedia throws a wrench in anyone’s plans that oppose his. He gives the orders to kill innocents, and has the means to sabotage towns with, shall we say, vampire terrorism. Martin and Mister eventually escape the Brotherhood and have many close calls with vamps and Jebedia’s minions. They also meet some kindred spirits on their way to New Eden: a pregnant Belle (Danielle Harris) and ex-marine Willie (Sean Nelson), and reconnect with Sister. They tough it out on the road as they inch their way to what they hope will be a new start far from the insane and infected.
I have always enjoyed survival stories, be it in book form or on film, so this movie worked for me. Nick Damici’s rough, tough and gnarly portrayal of Mister was on the ball; and Connor Paolo brings a vulnerability to Martin that kept Mister human. I loved how Martin gravitated towards Sister and his crush on Belle. This made his youth and missing teen years painfully evident as he had to grow up fast in such a devastating environment. Michael Cerveris made Jebedia a fantastic villain. His religious insanity and power over his followers was intense, and his second appearance later on in the film blew me away.
Stake Land comes in a 2 dvd set. The second includes behind the scenes footage, and prequel webisodes which gives us insight to the origins of the outbreak and some background on all the main characters. I thought they were amazing, and found Mister’s prequel to be surprisingly touching, if not heartbreaking. There is also footage of the film’s premiere at the 2010 TIFF Midnight Madness. Definitely worth taking a look, if only for the webisodes which are a must-see. I’m now looking forward to picking up Mulberry Street, which is another product of writing team Jim Mickle (who directed Stake Land and Mulberry Street) and Nick Damici. Stay tuned for that review!