Ever since the success of 28 Days Later back in 2003, the post-apocalyptic genre of films has been a crowded market with its fair share of successes and failures. Notable releases such as The Road and Zombieland have been accompanied by such misfires as Doomsday and I Am Legend that, whilst entertaining, ultimately failed to hit their mark. Stakeland is a brave and accomplished entry in Jim Mickle's career, and although there are only a handful of original ideas throughout the film, the ideas taken from other movies are handled with enough skill that they serve only to enhance the overall viewing experience. It must be said, some of the director's own ideas are fantastic and show a great potential for the future - a future that the ragged band of survivors we follow throughout Stakeland may not be able to enjoy.
After our protagonist is saved from a disastrous situation which leaves him as the sole survivor of his family, he is taken under the wing of his rescuer; the elusive ‘Mister’, whose similarities to Whistler from Blade appear to be more than pure coincidence. Together,they embark on a road trip that tests them to their very limits as they encounter a whole host of dangers and struggle to survive whilst roaming throughout North America, picking up a number of travelling companions on the way.In a storyline not too dissimilar to The Mist, some surviving factions of humans believe that God has sent the vampires to punish humanity and it is these that pose almost as much danger to our band of travellers as the dangerous breeds of vampire that stalk them. These cults are a welcome addition to the film, enhancing the aspect of danger and providing the basis for some of the film's more memorable moments in a standout scene where a supposedly safe town is assaulted from the air.
The initially nameless main character - played brilliantly by Connor Paolo (the spitting image of a young Colin Farrel) - has his life turned upside down at the start of the movie, however, we do not get to see how the whole world initially turned upside down, and the cause of the vampire's origins is rarely touched upon. His story is told through countless monologues that overlay the fantastic imagery of sparse vistas and urban decay, creating a sense of scale that is far beyond what we see on the screen. Whilst the other characters we meet do not have enough time to develop fully, they all play an essential part in the story, and although some scenes could have been far more powerful if the audience were affected by their plight, the suspense was enough to keep me on my edge of the seat throughout.
There are few scares to be found in Stakeland but the overall sense of foreboding doom and the generous helpings of violence and gore should please the majority of horror fans. Anyone with even a passing interest in post-apocalyptic films will definitely take a lot from Stakeland and although it is not quite a genre classic, it will certainly become a cult favourite in a few years time.
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