Title: Stake Land
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Connor Paolo (‘Gossip Girl’), Nick Damici (‘The Black Donnellys’), Kelly McGillis (‘Top Gun’), Danielle Harris (‘Halloween ’)
With the over-saturation of vampire films and television shows in America today, it’s getting increasingly harder for screenwriters to create a unique script about the blood-sucking creatures. Fortunately, director Jim Mickle, who helped pen the screenplay for his new movie ‘Stake Land,’ not only included creative twists to the vampire mythos, but also added a religious sub-plot that will surely make many viewers question modern American culture.
‘Stake Land’ follows a young teen, Martin (played by Connor Paolo), as he’s first introduced to the new vampirism epidemic that’s sweeping America. He witnesses his parents and younger sibling being killed by one of the bloodthirsty creatures, and is rescued by a stranger, simply known as Mister (portrayed by Nick Damici). Having no where else to turn, Martin travels across the country with his new mentor, who teaches him how to hunt down the vampires, who have a mix of zombie qualities in them.
While searching for the rural civilization known as New Eden, which has been set up in Canada as the vampires can’t adapt to cold weather, Martin and Mister kill two men trying to kill a nun, Sister Anna (played by Kelly McGillis). One of the men’s fathers turns out to be fundamentalist militia leader Jebedia Loven (portrayed by Michael Cerveris), who believes the new vampirism plague is the Lord’s work. Acting in God’s name, Jebedia and his followers search the country to find Mister to take their revenge on him. Not only do Mister, Martin and Anna have to fight off the vampires while they travel towards New Eden, they must also stay off of Jebedia’s radar.
Mickle, who co-wrote the horror film with Damici, took an interesting, unique look into the world of vampires with the story. Instead of showcasing the world through the eyes of the vampires, who are usually highly intelligible creatures who can easily blend into society, Mickle took the risky venture of questioning what would happen if they brought on the collapse of modern civilization. As many viewers watch Mister, Martin and the other humans they meet on their journey search for a way to survive, they will surely appreciate Mickle’s message that people can’t take what they have for granted.
While Mickle also included the basic characteristics of vampires in ‘Stake Land,’ such as needing to drink blood and not being able to go out in the sun, Mickle made the right decision to also include characteristics of zombies. Viewers will empathize with Martin, Mister and Anna’s plight from the vampires, and their need to kill every one they come into contact with. The vampires are unintelligible creatures who no longer have any sense of humanity or any characteristics of their former human selves; their only goal is to feed on and kill humans.
Mickle also rightfully included the message that people can’t outrun their fate. While Martin, Mister and the rest of the world never fully accept the new plague of vampirism, which has brought on the collapse of the government and the apocalypse to some degree, they are easily able to adapt to their new surroundings. Martin and Mister visit several rural towns that are functioning to the best of their ability under the circumstances, and where people take pride in how many vampires they have killed.
While Martin slays vampires in order to survive and to avenge his family, Paolo shows his diverse acting ability by showing that his character struggles with having to kill anything, even the deviant creatures. While Paolo is most well-known for playing easily manipulated Eric van der Woodsen on the hit CW series ‘Gossip Girl,’ he was convincingly able to make Martin’s take-charge attitude believable. Viewers will easily come to think that doing whatever it takes to survive is truly part of Martin’s nature.
Mickle is able to balance Martin’s good nature with the introduction of Jebedia and his fundamentalist militia. The religious aspect helps ‘Stake Lande’ take on the feel of a George A. Romero zombie film. With Jebedia and his followers preying on innocent people across the country, Mickle in sorts criticizes contemporary religious leaders who do what they want in the name of their God. The director proves that not all horror movies have to just focus on violence and gore; they can also several important life messages.
While many horror directors today think that the only way to scare their audiences is by including continuous visual and special effects, Mickle distinguished himself as a director and a writer by including several social criticisms. Combined with his unique twist on the vampire genre and the adaptability of his actors, Mickle has rightfully differentiated himself in the horror genre with ‘Stake Land.’
Written by: Karen Benardello