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DVD Review: ‘Stake Land’

★★★☆☆

Upon its UK release earlier this year, Jim Mickle’s post-apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land (2010) – starring Connor Paolo, Nick Damici and Kelly McGillis – was heralded as ‘The American horror film of the year’. Whilst Mickle’s low budget effort is certainly not short on gore and invention, a fairly ridiculous final battle and shaky performances throughout leaves the film falling well short of ‘genre classic’ status.

As seems to be the current trend in apocalyptic dramas, the exact roots of the world-threatening viral pandemic is never really established. Though it is suggested that the ‘vamps’ are a bi-product of a disease, with one old newspaper featuring a bat on its front cover, a link between the two is not overtly made. We begin the film in a barn belonging to a rural family (husband, wife, teenage son and baby) as they frantically pack supplies and belongings into a truck.

An unknown sound alarms the the children’s parents, and after heading into the night to investigate, Martin (Connor Paolo) is pinned to the ground by a gruff stranger, promising to break his neck if he utters a sound. A huge commotion breaks out back in the barn and Martin finds himself orphaned, at the mercy of his mysterious, vampire-killing saviour – known only as ‘Mister’ (Nick Damici, who is also credited as the film’s co-writer).

With a definite nod to John Hillcoat’s melancholic, post-apocalyptic drama The Road (2009), Mickle’s Stake Land takes the form of a fairly generic road movie as the duo head north to the Canadian border (doesn’t everybody) in order to escape the bloodsucking hordes. An intriguing addition to the tried and tested formula comes in the guise of religious fanatics ‘The Brotherhood’, a sect of shaven-headed zealots that see the vamp epidemic as yet another one of God’s spring cleans. However, what starts as an interesting concept soon descends into a very polarised fight between good and evil, personified in a frankly ludicrous final battle between Martin, Mister and a old foe.

Whilst significantly more enjoyable than the majority of American horrors you will see this year (at least Mickle’s rejects the highly-fashionable ‘found footage’ format), Stake Land remains somewhat underwhelming. The ingredients were all there for a revisionist post-apocalyptic horror, Mickle’s effort rarely bares its teeth. The vampire horror sub-genre may have to wait until the arrival of the eagerly-anticipated movie adaptation of Justin Cronin’s The Passage (with or without Matt Reeves) for a true game changer.

Daniel Green