There is such a large number of direct-to-video trash in the horror genre that floods video store shelves, and after five minutes of Stake Land, there was no reason to believe this was going to be anything different. Beginning as an almost carbon copy of Zombieland minus the humour, the film introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world overrun by an assortment of undead bloodsuckers, and our two heroes: orphaned teen Martin (Connor Paolo) and tough as nails vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici). What unravels however is a surprisingly moving and unique road drama, scattered with some genuinely disturbing scenes, and ultimately one of the best horror movies these tired eyes have seen in quite some time.
Tonally, Stake Land hits all the right notes, mostly due to the wonderfully sombre musical score. It’s very understated and completely appropriate for the atmosphere that director Jim Mickle constructs. Martin, Mister, and the various side characters who tag along for various parts of the journey are all fully realised and generate impressive levels of sympathy, and when things go bad the film is genuinely affecting. Just when the slow pace begins to drag a little, the film wraps things up on a suitably bleak note, yet still offers a hint of optimism in the final moments. The climactic battle isn’t perhaps as effective or well explained as it probably needed to be, but so much works with Stake Land that it’s possible to forgive the few flaws. It’s so rare that a largely unknown horror film can surprise like this, and even for people who usually avoid the genre, Stake Land has a lot to offer.
Reviewed by: Mark Roulston