Roaming around the food chain, indie director Jim Mickle and his co-writer, actor Nick Damici, leave the zombie-rat infestation of their earlier collaboration Mulberry Street for a Homo sapiens vampire epidemic in the familiar but nicely crafted Stake Land.It is a film of many ploooooches, meaning: stake in the chest? Ploooooch goes the sound effect. Yank it out again: ploooooch. Wipe. Rinse. Repeat. It is also a disarmingly somber treatment of the sort of thing the recent Zombieland, whose zombies weren’t so behaviorally different from the vampires here, treated for laughs (and good ones). Tonally, Mickle strives for the end-of-the-line gravity of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The vampires have overrun America, leaving the few surviving humans to fend for themselves, to the tune of mournful solo piano on the soundtrack. A wily, stoical vampire-slayer known only as Mister, played by Damici, is determined to head north via the back roads to a place called New Eden, where a new, vampire-free life can begin. In the grisly prologue, teenage Martin (Connor Paolo) becomes an orphan and is more or less adopted, like a dog, by Mister. Like so many post-apocalyptic scenarios, Stake Land concerns how this young survivor acquires a replacement family under extreme societal duress. Other survivors include the pregnant, saintly Belle (Danielle Harris) and a nun played by Kelly McGillis who must contend with a self-appointed savior of a cult leader (Michael Cerveris, more subtle than you’d expect in a role like this). The acting’s quite good, especially in the supporting ranks. I could’ve done without Martin’s stricken descriptions of the obvious (“we were on our own now, me and Mister … traveling through a ruined land”). But there is one particularly pleasing extended tracking shot, a musical interlude — a hoedown — interrupted by vampires. Mickle orchestrates the action cleverly and moves his camera (the lightweight, agile RED digital) with a sure sense of authority. Elsewhere we don’t get much conspicuously interesting work of visual interest in Stake Land; it’s more about the cutting and the ploooooching. But Mickle has talent, and the end credits include a character known as “French Canadian Cannibal,” which is worth a half-star right there.
Movie InfoCast: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Michael Cerveris, Danielle Harris, Sean Nelson.
Director: Jim Mickle.
Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle.
Producers: Adam Folk, Brent Kunkle, Peter Phok, Larry Fessenden.
An IFC Midnight release. Running time: 98 minutes. Vampire violence. In Miami Dade only: Cosford.