By Adam Vaughan
From its trailer you would be forgiven for thinking that Stake Land (2010) was a Resident Evil (2002) meets Zombieland (2009) rip-off. Set in a post-apocalyptic America following the outbreak of a virus which breeds bloodthirsty vampire-zombies, the film centres on teenager Martin whose family have been slaughtered by the creatures. Martin is saved by mysterious stranger Mister who has a knack for hunting these hybrid blood-suckers. He favours the old-school method of a hammer and stake; Sir Christopher Lee will be pleased.
After picking up other survivors – including Kelly McGillis as a nun – the group set off in search of ‘New Eden’, a so-called safe haven in Canada, but must evade a malevolent religious cult that believe the vampire infestation to be, ironically, both a sign from God and a Darwinian exercise in survival.
Contrary to its marketing, Stake Land is less an all-action bloodletting romp, more contemplative chiller; The Road (2009) with monsters. In fact, Martin’s narration (which comprises most of the film’s entire dialogue) is McCarthy-esque in its pessimistic lyricism and the film’s score resembles Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ stoic compositions for the earlier film.
However, Stake Land’s minimalism comes back to haunt it as the film reaches an ambiguous resolution. Its rather slight plot struggles to sustain the ninety-minute running time and might have been better served as a mini-series. After all, The Walking Dead proved that there was a home for horror on the small screen.
Nevertheless, Stake Land is beautifully shot with some cynically sombre details (look out for a corpse hanging above a recycling centre and a sign outside a house that reads ‘Alive in basement’). An unassuming, quietly impressive horror road movie, this is a film that has a good sense of its own nihilism.