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, but 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 their car, a deadly infected creature gets in their shed. As Martin's family is killed, a mysterious man, known simply as Mister (Nick Damici), arrives just in time to save Martin.
After Mister killed the creature, Martin's father (Gregory Jones) uses his last breath to tell him to protect his son. 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 he will have to train Martin to survive if he has any hope of getting the boy 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 the creatures also shared traits with another classic horror creature. In this film, the monsters definitely resembled and behaved like zombies. They were relatively mindless creatures, and their skin was decaying. Looking at these creatures and watching how they behave, you will realize that the word "vampire" doesn't quite cut it, but the word “zombie” would not exactly do the trick either.
"Zompires" may be more fitting—vambies" would also work, but that does not sound quite as intimidating. Anyway, these creatures were definitely unique and I think it worked pretty well for this film. It was basically a zombie movie, but the "Zompires" were very fast, very agile, and could be killed in more unique ways than a typical zombie. The "Zompire" related fear and action was excellent, beyond your average zombie movie action. I could have used more of it, but when it was happening, I was definitely into it.
Con: Predictable (-6pts)
One issue that I had with this movie was its plot, because it was extremely predictable. Mister saved a young boy during the outbreak, and the two started their journey. Mister became a mentor, and the two encountered all sorts of people in addition to the "Zompires". Along the way, Mister was 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. They also blindly believed that, while their entire world was in chaos, there was this other place that was some how untouched. Was New Eden actually safe? You will have to see the movie to find out, but my point is that the journey was one that we have seen many times before. I could give you more examples, but not do so without spoiling the movie, and I think you get my point anyway.
Pro: Martin & Mister (+8pts)
While we have seen their story many times before, I enjoyed the main character's chemistry in this movie. It was all narrated by Martin's character, which got a little annoying at times, but it was effective at telling the story from Martin's perspective. The filmmakers focused on Martin's perspective, but left the viewers with a lot of questions about Mister. Mister was very kind toward Martin, but he was also extremely violent toward the infected and survivors with ill-intent. He did not just kill people; his actions were brutal and even cruel, but they were certainly fun to watch. Even knowing that Mister was a protagonist that killed antagonists (very effectively), it was still hard to look at his actions and see them as anything but extreme.
While I personally think that the antagonists deserved it, but I could not argue with anyone said otherwise. By doing this, the filmmakers heavily implied that Mister had a very dark past. It made this character an unusual protagonist, and it made him more interesting. It was then more interesting that he is still compassionate toward Martin. This provided an interesting dynamic between the two characters. There was 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, in potential future movies.
Con: Mutated Zompire (-3pts)
I will do my best to stay vague here because this occurred toward the end of the movie. Throughout the movie, Mister proved that he was extremely capable of eliminating "Zompires" and that the other characters were capable of barely surviving and getting away. Thus, the stakes—see what I did there?— diminish toward the end of the movie, because we know the protagonists can handle themselves. As the story neared its end, a mutated "Zompire" showed up, which was far more powerful than anything they had encountered.
There was no explanation as to why this "Zompire" was superior to the (seemingly infinite) other "Zompires". The filmmakers clearly had an endgame to this movie that they wanted to achieve, but they had already proven to the audience that the remaining survivors were capable. The filmmakers way around this was to throw in a super powered monster to use as a plot device. There was just no explanation to it, which made it clear that the writers used this to get themselves out of the corner they had written themselves into.
Pro: The Brotherhood (+5pts)
This story was really about the characters and survival after the outbreak. It very heavily suggested that the most dangerous things in a post-apocalyptic world are other people. The Brotherhood was a cult, of sorts, led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris). He and his group believed that the plague was an act of God, whose intent was cleansing the world of sin. Jebedia and his group decided that it was their role to help God with his plan. Thus, their mission was finding surviving camps and breaking their walls or finding various other ways to get "Zompires" inside.
This filmmakers did a very good job at showing that the Brotherhood as a group of terrible people, but they also did a good job at showing that Mister (and Martin) could not just ignore them on their trip to New Eden. The Brotherhood had to be dealt with, so The Brotherhood served two major purposes for this story. First, they showed that mankind can be more monstrous and evil than monstrous creatures. Second, in an otherwise predictable main plot, the Brotherhood added some necessary unpredictability that forced Mister and Martin to take a bit of a detour from their primary objective.
Con: Plot Holes & Plot Devices (-4pts)
While I was pretty entertained by this film, it was absolutely riddled with plot holes and plot devices. I will give a few examples here while avoiding spoilers. Mister was somehow a master "Zompire" killer, armed with well crafted stakes, during the initial outbreak of this plague. This meant that he was a master at killing things that just came to be in existence—convenient. Mister and Martin also continuously ran into the Brotherhood (with Jebedia), no matter how much they drove and how much distance they put between them and the crazy cult.
The last example I will give occurred when the mutated "Zompire" pops up. At this point, the group was aware that they were being hunted by something, so they slept (outside in the woods) in shifts. A couple characters hear something, and just run off, without waking up the rest of the group—what?! This was a fundamental misunderstanding of what it meant to be on watch, and it was really convenient for the writers for this misunderstanding to happen. These were just a few examples of serious plot holes and plot devices that had the sole intent of moving the story in the filmmakers' desired direction. They did not make much sense from a story perspective, so just came across as lazy writing.
Grade: B- (81pts)
I thought Stake Land was a fairly entertaining monster movie. It had unique creatures by combining two classic monsters (zombies and vampires). It also had decent action, and interesting main characters, which were your typical mentor and apprentice, but Mister’s darkness gave this relationship an extra layer. Then there was the group known as the Brotherhood, who were unpredictable and effective antagonists.
Unfortunately, the overall plot was pretty predictable, as we have seen the post-apocalyptic survival story where the main characters somehow think that some other place is a safe haven. The other plot issues came lazy writing that had the sole intent of moving the plot in a specific direction. The plot could have used some work, but the movie had some interesting characters, unique and intimidating monsters, effective antagonists, and some fun horror-themed action. Was it a great movie? No, but I had a decent time watching it.