Sydney Film Festival – Stake Land review

Stake Land – Starring Danielle Harris and Connor Paolo. Directed by Jim Mickle. By Hilary Simmons.

The vampire-saturated movie market has been in desperate need of a new set of teeth – metaphorically speaking – for some time. Stake Land opens wide for aficionados with a post-apocalyptic pointy-fanged Western. Forget the soft focus of Twilight and the befanged farce that was Transylmania, Stake Land is more like Zombieland with mutant vamps… or The Road vs. The Evil Dead.

Picking up from where 28 Days Later left off, a futuristic feral landscape is crimson-lipped with cannibalism. The most dangerous thing is to be alive, and newly orphaned teenager Martin and his grizzly mentor Mister are lurching towards an unlikely safe haven, otherwise known as ‘New Eden.’ They’re killing vamps along the way, of course, but the real threat comes from the evil neo-Christians who believe that the vampires are a gift from God.

The plot’s not anything too out of character for a vampire movie, but the special effects are extraordinary. The vampires are viscous, drooling creatures, and when the Christian crazies drop them out of a helicopter as a weapon, the CGI effects are well-paired with vociferous feeding sounds. Only some well-placed cornpone family sentiment stops Stake Land from becoming completely bestial.

An Italian theorist, Umberto Eco, claimed that horror films reflect the sense of disorder and discontinuity which is such a marked feature of the modern world. In the post-apocalyptic world of Stake Land, religious fundamentalism is as frightening, if perhaps not more frightening, than frenzied vampires. Both the hungry vamps and the rapacity of humankind are to be feared and loathed.

The only solace in Stake Land is that the faith that binds people together is made of stronger stuff than the adrenaline rush of killing vamps in sick, startling and ignobly satisfying ways. The Catholic nun trying to hold onto her faith in the face of horrendous un-holiness is an obvious example of this. It may not be a revolutionary film, but it’s fast-paced, gory and packed with stunning panoramic images of nature. Go to a screening to see vampires skewered, sliced, chopped and mutilated with stake-fu.


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