The good news about the film Stake Land is that it manages to deliver a fairly suspenseful and sometimes exciting horror tale about hoards of feral vampires ravaging the globe. The bad news is that it's just not very original. Though it will make you jump, which is the purpose of scary movies, so as long you're not looking for anything groundbreaking, then director Jim Mickle's Stake Land is a good way for a horror fan to spend 98 minutes.
Stake Land covers familiar territory already paved in many other 'Plague-of-the-undead-spreading-across-the-world' films, like the George Romero zombie films and The Last man on Earth (remade as Omega Man and I Am Legend). This time, it's vampires instead of zombies or mutants who are covering the globe but the basic formula plays out in the same manner.
The story follows a teenager named Martin (Connor Paolo, best known as Eric on Gossip Girl) who's parents are brutally killed by a savage vampire in the early days of the vampire apocalypse. Martin is saved by a vampire-slaying warrior known only as "Mister" (Nick Damici, who co-wrote the script). Mister takes young Martin under his wing and they travel across the country together in their car; slaying vampires and trying to reach the rumored northern sanctuary called New Eden. Several people join them along the way, for varying lengths of time; including an aging nun named Sister Anna (Kelly McGillis from Witness and Top Gun) who is having a crisis of faith; Willie (Sean Nelson), who they rescued from the vamps, and a pregnant young girl named Belle (Danielle Harris, who played Michael Myers' intended victim in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5). There are some hints of attraction between Martin and Belle but the vamps don't give them much opportunity for romance.
The group's journey across country is complicated by human cannibals and a vampire-worshipping cult called the Brethren, led by Jebedia (Michael Cerveris) who believe that the vamps are doing God's work. When Mister kills two members of the cult, including Jebadia's son, the cult make it their mission to track Mister down and make him suffer.
Aside from the Brethren subplot, the main story is basically a more serious version of the 2009 Woody Harrelson comedy Zombieland, with vampires instead of zombies. It also has aspects of the excellent Viggo Mortensen film The Road (2009) about a father and son crossing the country after an apocalypse, avoiding cannibals as they go.
Happily, the vampires here are not emo and lovelorn, as many modern movie and TV vampires are. This isn't Twilight or Vampire Diaries. Sadly, however, the vampires in this film are indistinguishable from zombies. They are mindless berserkers who "act from their reptilian brains". They don't speak; they have no discernible personalities, and all they do is attack anything that moves and feed off it. These guys aren't exactly Dracula or Lestat.
There are some decent scares here and the performances are good. Director Jim Mickle manages to give it an epic feel on a relatively low budget. If you don't mind the cookie-cutter plot of a small group of people trying to survive while a mindless army of flesh-eating creatures spreads across the globe, then you should enjoy Stake Land.
"Stake Land" opens April 22, 2011 and is rated R. Horror. Directed by Jim Mickle. Written by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. Starring Conner Paolo, Dannielle Harris, Jim Mickle, Kelly Mcgillis.