Movie Review: "Stake Land"
When a deadly plague begins sweeping the world, the United States government urges its civilians not to travel and to stay indoors. Martin's (Connor Paolo) parents have other plans. They intend on getting in their car with Martin, and their newborn, so they can drive north (away from heavy population). As they are packing the car, a deadly infected creature gets in their shed. As Martin's family is killed, a mysterious man, known as Mister (Nick Damici), arrives just in time to kill the creature (driving a stake through the creatures heart) and save Martin. As Mister kills the creature, Martin's father (Gregory Jones) tells him to save his son before passing away.
Now, Mister aims to get Martin to New Eden (Canada) where the weather is cold enough that the creatures cannot survive there. However, this will be a long journey, so they will surely come across plenty of dead creatures, survival camps, deadly cults, and more. Mister realizes that Martin is just a boy, so he will have to train Martin to survive and fight while trying to make the journey to Canada.
The Pros & Cons
Mutated Zompire (-3pts)
Plot Holes & Plot Devices (-4pts)
Pro: Zompires (+6pts)
This film is described as a vampire movie, but anyone who sees the film will be critical of that description. These creatures have fangs, they are fast, more dangerous at night, and they are killed by having a stake driven through their heart. These are all characteristics of vampires, but they also share traits with another classic horror creature. In this film, the monsters definitely resemble and behave like zombies. They are relatively mindless creatures, and their skin is decaying. Looking at these creatures and watching how they behave, you will realize that the word "vampire" doesn't quite cut it. "Zompires" may be more fitting ("vambies" would work, but that does not sound as intimidating).
Anyway, these creatures are definitely unique and I think it works pretty well for this film. This is basically a zombie film, but the "Zompires" are very fast, very agile, and can be killed in more unique ways than a typical zombie film. The "Zompire" related fear and action is excellent in the film. I could have used more of it, but when it was happening, I was definitely into it.
Con: Predictable (-6pts)
One issue with this film is it's plot because it was extremely predictable. Mister saves a young boy during the outbreak, and the two start their journey. Mister becomes a mentor, and the two encounter all sorts of people in addition to the "Zompires". Along the way, Mister is consistently teaching Martin how to survive on their journey to the, supposedly safe, New Eden. How many times have you seen a movie or read a story just like this? Cool, older, experienced hunter takes a young inexperienced boy on a journey and tries to teach him everything he knows. We have seen this mentor relationship many times before.
They also blindly believe that, while their entire world is in chaos, there is this other place that is some how untouched. Is New Eden actually safe? You will have to see the movie to find out, but my point is that the journey is one that we have seen many times before. This is the main example of the plot issues. I could give you plenty more, but could not do so without spoiling plot points.
Pro: Martin & Mister (+8pts)
While we have seen their story many times before, I enjoyed the character's chemistry in this film. The film also gets narration by Martin's character, which gets annoying at times, but effectively tells the story from Martin's perspective. Why did I like this? It gave subtly to Mister. The film focuses very heavily on Martin's perspective, but leaves the viewers with a lot of questions about Mister. I liked this because the film realizes that his origin is not necessary for this plot. However, by not telling his origin, the viewer will be wondering what he is thinking and why he is acting a certain way.
Mister is very kind towards Martin. Mister takes Martin under his wing and tries his best to teach him everything he knows. Mister is also extremely violent towards the infected and survivors with ill-intent. He does not just kill these people; his actions are brutal and cruel. Even knowing that Mister is a protagonist that kills antagonists (very effectively), it is still hard to look at his actions and see them as anything but cruel. Do the antagonists deserve it? I will leave that up to the viewers but I certainly cannot argue against anyone who says yes. That being said, many will feel that Mister is (at times) unnecessarily violent.
By doing this, the film heavily implies that Mister has a very dark past, so it is interesting that he is still very compassionate towards Martin. This provided an interesting dynamic between the two characters. There is something very dark about Mister, and I would definitely be interested in learning more about the character as well as seeing his struggle between guardian and psychopath.
Con: Mutated Zompire (-3pts)
I will do my best to stay vague here because this occurs toward the end of the film. So the film ends up showing that Mister is extremely capable of eliminating "Zompires" and that the other characters are capable of barely surviving and getting away. So as the film nears it's end, a mutated "Zompire" shows up that is far more powerful than anything they have encountered. It can think, speak, is extremely powerful, and extremely dangerous to the group. That is all I will say about the mutated "Zompire"; now I will explain my issue with this.
There is no explanation as to why, this "Zompire" is so much more superior than all of the (seemingly infinite) other "Zompires". The filmmakers clearly had an endgame to this film that they wanted to achieve and they have already proven to the audience that the remaining survivors are capable. As a result, the viewer does not fear for these character's lives because we know these characters will be fine. So the filmmakers introduce the mutated "Zompire". It really felt like a major plot device with the intent of getting the writers out of the corner they had written themselves into. I apologize for being so vague, but you will know exactly what I mean if you see this film.
Pro: The Brotherhood (+5pts)
If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, you will find a lot of similarities in this film. This movie is really about the characters and survival after the outbreak. More obviously, the film very heavily suggests that the most dangerous things, in the post-apocalypse, are other people. The Walking Dead has various groups led by madmen, but this film gives us just one: The Brotherhood. This is a cult, of sorts, led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris). He and his group believe that the plague is an act of God, whose intent is cleansing the world of sin.
Sure, it is not unnatural to believe that, but Jebedia and his group decide to help God with his plan (cause you know, God cannot do it alone, right?). So they find surviving camps and they break their walls or find various other ways to get "Zompires" inside. So groups will be surviving just fine, only for The Brotherhood to show up and release "Zompires" into the camps. This is severely messed up. Oh, and they are also a group of rapist men who see women as "stock".
This film does a very good job at showing that The Brotherhood is a group of terrible people, but it also does a good job at showing that Mister (and Martin) cannot just ignore them on their trip to New Eden. The Brotherhood will have to be dealt with. So The Brotherhood serves two major purposes for this film. First, it shows that mankind can be more monstrous and evil than the creatures in the film. Second, in a pretty predictable main plot, The Brotherhood adds some necessary unpredictability that forces Mister and Martin to take a bit of a detour from their journey.
Con: Plot Holes & Plot Devices (-4pts)
While I was pretty entertained by this film, it is absolutely riddled with plot holes and plot devices. I will give a few examples while avoiding spoilers. Mister is somehow a master "Zompire" killer, armed with well crafted stakes, during the initial outbreak of this plague. So he is a master at killing things that just came to be. How did he have time to become an expert? Mister and Martin also continuously run into The Brotherhood (with Jebedia), no matter how much they drive and put distance between them and the crazy cult. The last, and worst, example I will give occurs when the mutated "Zompire" pops up.
At this point, the group is aware that they are being hunted by a "Zompire" that can think. So they sleep (outside in the woods) in shifts, one character remains awake while the others sleep. Mister is awake and hears something, so he wakes Martin and the two run off (leaving no one awake at the camp) to go see what the noise was. What?! You really do not think it would be a good idea to wake everyone up before leaving? These are just a few examples of serious plot holes and plot devices with the sole intent of moving the story in the filmmakers' desired direction.
Grade: B- (81pts)
I thought Stake Land was a fairly entertaining film. It has unique creatures by combining two classic monsters, zombies and vampires. It also has some decent action, and interesting main characters. We have seen the mentor relationship many times before, but this film focuses on Martin's perspective which results in a lot of mystery around Mister. He is interesting because he is a very dark and tormented character that is very protective and compassionate toward Martin. So he definitely has a real struggle within, and I am sure there is an interesting backstory to support it (which I would be interested in learning). The film also has a pretty unpredictable group, known as The Brotherhood.
The film's issues all come from it's plot. The main story in this film is extremely predictable because we have seen it all before. We have seen the post-apocalyptic survival story where the main characters somehow decide that, while their region is in chaos, some other place is untouched. We have seen that story many times and we have also seen the mentor relationship many times before. This film has a slight twist on the mentor relationship but the story hits the same plot points that we have seen so many times before. The other plot issues come from major plot devices that feel like lazy writing with the intent of moving the plot in the filmmakers' desired direction.
So this film has a very poorly written plot, but it has some interesting characters, unique monsters, and some fun horror-action. Is it a great movie? No, but it I thought it was somewhat above average. So I can recommend watching this film if you like post-apocalyptic movies, just do not expect it to blow you away.