Vampire films have little bite left; like zombie flicks, the horror genre has pretty much bled them dry by going to the well too often. Makes me wish for the halcyon days of the Hammer films. There’s been far too much tiresome reinvention of the vampire in modern horror, turning them into gorgeous romantic hearthrobs for teenage girls (Twilight films and True Blood) or gory cannon fodder for the action crowd (Blade, Priest, Daybreakers). Really it’s all been done, the movie vampire corpse is twitching in the roadside, run over and over by some mad Hollywood driver intent to wring every last cent out of it. As genres go, it’s all pretty sad and ugly.
But then along comes a film like Stake Land, the best vampire movie I’ve seen in years (well, since 30 Days Of Night, anyway). An independent, low-budget movie that really shoots higher than it has a right to. It’s not perfect by any means, but any film that kicks fresh life into this horror genre is alright in my book. It’s a slow, thoughtful take on vampires, in a post-apocalypse America that feels pretty inevitable political collapse, economic ruin, religious mania… the vampires almost seem irrelevant to the story the filmmakers want to tell.
Stake Land is a road movie, its characters a thrown-together family, dysfunctional and broken, watching the old world disintegrate around them whilst mournful music (an excellent score by Jeff Grace) plays over the soundtrack. The young hero, the nominal lead in what is really an ensemble piece, voices a thoughtful narration over scenes of despair and desolation, a voice-over that reminds one of Terrence Malick films, or maybe what a horror film by Malick might seem like- dreamy, lost, uninterested in the gore, more interested in the sky, the barren landscape. Which is not to say they are no jumps, shocks or gore. It’s pretty grisly in places. But this film is better than that. Plenty of boring gore-fests come and go, but this film has more going on; some commentary on modern America in the vein (sic) of Romero in his prime.
It feels very much like a film not of this era, more of a 1970s movie, very similar in tone to The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (one of my favourite films of the past ten years), especially in its visuals, its music. For a film with its languid pace, it is also surprisingly rather short. No doubt many will despair at that pace however, tiresome of the emphasis on mood and character and setting, itching for the action and shocks, but they are missing the point; that’s not what this film is about. A horror film yes, but one that has something to say rather than just supply shocks and gore. A refreshing change then, particularly in such a tired genre as the vampire movie. Perhaps in the end it betrays it’s influences too brashly, rather than having its own true voice. Really its The Road with The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and The Thin Red Line thrown in. But thats not a bad list of films to aspire to and be influenced by. Highly recommended.