In Stake Land‘s opening exposition, likeable teenage slayer Martin loses his family to a universal vampire infection. Martin is saved by Mister, who slices and dices the fanged intruder in a fashion which suggests he’s done it before. The film quickly deviates from its generic start, and follows Martin on a coming of age journey to New Eden, a rumored safe haven. Stake Land follows on from the hybridism of other recent vampire films, such as Zombieland‘s dark comedy and Let The Right One In/Let Me In‘s drama, but the most unavoidable comparison comes from the adaptation of Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road.
Where The Road’s title suggests an evasive stretch of tarmac leading from one unknown place to another, Stake Land informs us of a place which actually exists. What The Road can only imply about religion and humanity, Stake Land makes real. The films religious zealotry couldn’t come at a better time, as the commiserative Family Radio followers can catch a glimpse of their failed apocalyptic vision. The religious overtones are less hints than they are giant stakes through the heart of the film. It’s game over for Kelly McGillis’ Nun when she casts aside her Jesus figurine, and Mister has his palms crucified by a wayward sect leader. Stake Land may satisfy with its preposterously brazen social commentary, but the ambiguity of The Road makes it an altogether more tangible prediction of our future.
Although Stake Land offers a nightmarish vision of the future, where anything is possible, pockets of society have jumped back sixty or so years. The women in the film have a limiting choice of either getting knocked up, prostituting themselves, or sewing on buttons. The twilight of Martin’s teen years are reached when he meets a prospective girlfriend to nurture, and a new journey begins. Mister is by far the most interesting character, a surrogate figure who eschews the role. In keeping with the religious meta narrative, he later proclaims, ‘I’m not your father.’
There are flickers of greatness in Mickle’s direction, particularly as the makeshift family arrive in New Eden and serenity shifts seamlessly into disorder. The nihilistic radio broadcasts (akin to the transmissions heard in A Texas Chain Saw Massacre) blend peculiarly with an Assasination of Jesse James style score, to create a dreamy soundscape which matches the dramatic surroundings. Stake Land‘s parabolic ambition might be easily apparent, but it is still a clever film, and the Ozark-esque landscape alone is incredibly absorbing.