Rating: The Good – 63.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 118 mins Director: Jim Mickle Stars: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis
“All that goodness destroyed by some crazy Christians dropping vamps from the sky.” Any movie that can make those words sound unremarkable must surely do a job in (err…) sucking you into whatever messed up world it’s created. In Stake Land, that world is a United States overrun by vampires, cannibals, murderous religious cults, and pockets of humans struggling to survive the bloodsucking apocalypse. Our narrator is Martin, a young man being shepherded though this nightmare landscape by a notorious vampire killer known only as “Mister”. Characters like Mister don’t allow for much in the way of sentiment so what follows is a cruel story where any warmth seems to fight against the wider reality and inevitably fade away. It makes for a rather compelling reflection of the movie’s themes of self-sufficiency and needs-based politics but a bleak night in front of the TV. Where things could’ve been lightened up is with the Mister character. Nick Damici’s atypical physical presence tantalises at the outset and writer-director Jim Mickle’s refusal to elucidate his backstory sets him up for genre defining greatness. But however nice it is to see a lesser known actor get the opportunity to impress, he undeniably lacks the personality of an effective lead. Connor Paolo is equally slight as the narrator and although there are some nice turns of phrase scattered about Mickle’s script, he really doesn’t deliver them with enough punch. Falling back on its moodiness and some marginally imaginative obstacles, Stake Land thus becomes a somewhat occupying if ultimately cold addition to the genre.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Crime, Action Duration: 109 mins Director: Jim Mickle Stars: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson
Jim Mickle’s film about a family man whose shooting of a home intruder entwines him in the travails of an aged ex-con and his old war buddy is an intriguing throwback to the crime thrillers of the 1980’s (and 70’s), crafted with all their style and some of their substance. Michael C. Hall leads the cast as the ordinary working stiff who just wants to set things right with the intimidating father of the man he shot. That the latter is played by the great Sam Shepard is only the first of two brilliant pieces of casting because the reborn Don Johnson pops up in the even more interesting role of the pig-farming private detective who owes Shepard his life.
There are a number of twists and turns to Nick Damici’s austere screenplay, too many of which are alluded to in the trailers and publicity posters, but it gets ever darker as it goes and culminates in a Rolling Thunder type showdown that makes for a rather effective release of tension. It could be argued that there’s one twist too many and that signposting and adhering to one streamlined plot might have served the ultimate purpose of the film (which was nothing more than to engineer a sleek actioner) better but it’s fair to say the delayed reveal adds an abundance of intrigue to the project.
Needless to say, with a cast like this one, there’s much to admire on the acting front. Hall makes for an impressive lead and captures all the hard headed nativity of his character. Shepard is mean as hell but with an essential humanity that drives the final act. However, it’s Johnson who blows them all away with his crackling charm and steady nerves. Moreover, it’s he who carries the movie over it’s tallest hurdle, namely, a lack of proper exposition for Hall’s motives. Crucial as they are to the plot’s credibility, more work was needed in figuring out exactly why such an everyday Joe would stay the course.
In the end, we both do just that, not only because Johnson has us hook, line, and sinker but because Jeff Grace’s purposeful score – with resounding echoes of Tangerine Dream at their Near Dark best – promises so much in the way of classic crime cinema ahead. The good news is that we just about reach that hallowed furrow even if it’s not as substantial an arrival as Thief, Heat, or Rolling Thunder.