Brains-Before-Blood Horror in Stake Land


Post-apocalypse slow-burner Stake Land, produced by Larry Fessenden, is Jim Mickle and Nick Damici’s follow-up to the killer-rats-infest-the-LES flick Mulberry Street. It’s an ambitious hybrid, grafting the ethereal, landscape-driven, light-infused beauty and naïf narration associated with Terrence Malick onto a tale in which struggle against supernatural forces is just one challenge of coming of age—a trope that has become inescapably trendy of late, but hasn’t had such a sense of balance between the fantastic and the organic since the heyday of Joss Whedon. Seventeen-year-old Martin (Connor Paolo) is orphaned by killer vampires and saved by badass drifter Mister (Damici). The pair head west toward a supposed promised land, across a convincingly devastated landscape (the art direction complements actual landmarks of decaying Americana), fighting bloodsuckers, and the neo-Aryan nuts who worship them (and even flew planes full of vamps into national landmarks). How it came to pass that “they” took over is never fully explained: We only know that at some indeterminate point, trouble started and didn’t stop, and now those left alive are adapting by any means necessary. The narration is sometimes cloying, the Mother Mary metaphors are pumped hard, and the aesthetics can verge on self-parody (Martin’s vamp-dusting training reliably takes place at magic hour). But it’s thick with a distinct mood—the sadness and exhilaration of having nothing left to lose—and the characters, in their desperation and drive, feel real. Fessenden may be producing the best brains-before-blood horror in North America today.