It has been six years since Jim Mickle’s Stake Land delivered a right hook to the stagnant face of the vampire genre. His impressive post-apocalyptic survival film managed to thrill, horrify, and depress in one almighty swing, whilst pushing Mickle into the limelight. Stake Land 2, AKA The Stakelander, sure has a lot to live up to.
New directors Dan Beck and Robert Olsen (The Body) dwell with what they have, but this time The Stakelander doesn’t have surprise in its corner. Or Mickle for that matter. Luckily, Beck and Olsen do have Nick Damici on their side.
Damici was the secret weapon of Stake Land; a badass vampire hunter with nothing to lose and he continues to be the main attraction of this particular world. In a way, Damici is the Clint Eastwood of this western-tinged nightmare: consummately cool and dangerously cynical. One of the problems is that, master vampire or not, he doesn’t have a good enough villain to duel with.
As a sequel, The Stakelander offers up a pointedly less nihilistic story but doesn’t quite cash in on the potential for action. In the first five minutes Berk, Olsen, and Damici do their best to prove this is the same Stake Land as before; just as violent and unforgiving. But the film shows it’s dark heart too soon in a great opener and, like the first, doesn’t quite escalate to a satisfying final showdown. It’s a shame because vampire zombies (Vombies or Zampires?) in a Mad Max style future sounds all kinds of terrifying and fun.
Especially when the production value is so good. Sara McCudden, who helped imbibe Jennifer Lynch’s Chained with a grimy lived-in quality, manages the same here on a larger scale. The Body’s cinematographer Matt Mitchell gets way more to do, finding a dusky western palette, which gives this sequel its own visual style. Special effects are in the safe hands of indy effects guru Pete Gerner. With notable work in recent favourites like Cold in July, I Sell The Dead, Late Phases, and The Mind’s Eye, Gerner is fast becoming the man for independent genre production. With so many great parts, it’s a real shame things don’t come together.
Berk and Olsen are fine stand-ins for Mickle, but without Damici, The Stakelander would be a tough sell. It’s not a step up, more of a step-to-the-side, with great supporting performances (A.C. Peterson and Steven Williams in particular) and good action. If we’re getting a third entry, Damici needs to take director’s duties and turn things up to a hundred.
THE STAKELANDER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTORS: DAN BERK, ROBERT OLSEN / SCREENPLAY: NICK DAMICI / STARRING: NICK DAMICI, CONNOR PAOLO, A.C. PETERSON, STEVEN WILLIAMS / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE DATE TBA
Expected Rating: 7/10