Well-done and bloody as hell

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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