Well-done and bloody as hell
IF TERRENCE Malick ever gets around to making a zombie apocalypse movie, how ever will we distinguish it from Jim Mickle’s film? A dreamy cerebral road movie punctuated by taut horror set pieces and soft, occasionally portentous voiceover, Stake Land is as classy as walking dead flicks get.
Like the Living Dead sequence, Mickle’s picture has grander concerns than mere stake-’em-up action. As the film opens, an unexplained plague of vampire-zombies has plunged America into social and economic
meltdown. We’re told that the president is dead, that cities have fallen and that civilisation isn’t what it used to be. We’re told that survivors take refuge in bizarre Christian cults or make their way to Canada, where a vamp-free New Eden is said to await.
With a nod to The Searchers, Martin ( Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo) has lost his family in an attack on the old homestead when grizzled vamp slayer Mister (Damici) comes to the rescue. The boy becomes an eager protégé (cue a Karate Kid montage) to the rogue hunter and the pair soon journey northwards with a makeshift family in tow. A stoical nun (McGillis), a former Marine (Nelson) and a heavily pregnant musician (Harris) complete the band of outsiders.
Unhappily for these increasingly desperate survivors, the post-apocalyptic right wing religious zealots who occupy the outposts have decided that the zombie rapture is all part of God’s great plan. The crazies’ continual attempts to undermine and attack any remaining human settlements ensure there’s no place to hide and no easy route to New Eden.
A smart, cine-literate allegory, Stake Land has far more in common with The Road or Lord of the Flies than with the snarky contemporary undead outbreak flick. For every dry one-liner delivered by Mister as he dispatches a bloodsucker, there’s a small, poignant, survivor drama: Martin stares at a recent newspaper like it’s a remnant of ancient history; Kelly McGillis abandons the plastic Madonna she has carried through rape and cannibal attacks; Danielle Harris cradles her belly.
The monsters are standard issue but Mr Mickle, the director of rat attack cult sensation Mulberry Street, never allows the viewer to forget about the fragility behind the freestyle vampire decapitations.
The Road gets an even bleaker sequel, The Railway