Stake Land: A teenage boy and his grizzled mentor travel north through a vampire-ridden, devastated America, picking up vulnerable people, encountering security cordons and emptied towns, and seeking a haven they’ve heard all about on the radio. They forge a found family by killin’ the dead. Also there’s quite lush cinematography and big sweeping shots. If this is starting to sound familiar, you are correct, this is basically 28 States Later. Even the “vampires” are actually zombies with big teeth.
So okay, I loved 28 Days Later and this is, seriously, like a smudgy Silly Putty copy of that film. Why didn’t it work for me?
The kid’s breathy voiceover doesn’t help, but mostly my problem was the movie’s underlying worldview. I liked the way Americanizing the story makes apocalyptic heretical religion a lot more prominent (I mean, this is our brand) and I liked that the movie at least gestured at how total societal collapse would play out along racial lines. But holy cow, this movie does not actually care enough to make its women or black people full characters. They’re ciphers or rescue-bait. Ugh, so disingenuous. (Also lol even in this film’s post-apocalyptic small-town idyll I note that dancing couples match up neatly along racial lines. My country, ’tis of thee!) I’d love to have seen an actual black community, or church or bar or whatever, if racial division was going to be a theme.
Also, the underlying worldview of 28 Days Later is hard to summarize, especially without spoilers, but it has a lot to say about evils and cruelties inherent in all human communities but exaggerated in some. It’s a film which I think does a really good job of showing you how human choices, communities, and beliefs can make a terrible situation better or worse. By contrast, and I’m gonna spoil the ending here because it annoyed me so much, Stake Land suggests that American small towns would be super idyllic if outsiders would just stop dropping racism-vampires on them; moreover, the ending strongly implies that the haven really exists (ugh!) and is Canada (ugh–no offense, hockey fans, but it’s just childish on both a plot and a moral level to suggest that the racism-vampire-droppers, aka human cruelty, would respect national borders).
If you like found-family movies a lot, are okay with very brutal violence including a nun violating her beliefs (I like that there’s a nun but…), and can focus on the gorgeous shots of ruined buildings, you may get more from this than I did. I liked the use of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and I very much enjoyed the use of taxidermy as Americana.
Dorothy Mills: A young girl in an isolated Irish island village attacks the infant she was babysitting, and a psychiatrist is called in from the mainland to try to figure out why. The answer is a twisty tale of black magic/evil religion, a town’s terrible secrets including murder and (depicted onscreen) gang rape, ghosts, and possession by the souls of the dead. The lead actress (Jenn Murray) is fantastic, with her pointy creepy vulnerable face, but man, this was a whole lot of the unrelieved misery for which the Irish are renowned. I was definitely interested the whole time I was watching but was not sorry for it to end.
Ava (Louise Krause, perfectly brittle and sad) comes out of a month-long demon encounter to find that she’s under indictment for multiple felonies, her friends won’t speak to her, her mom has an eyepatch… and she doesn’t remember why. She has to go to “Spirit Possession Anonymous” in order to avoid prison. As she picks through the wreckage of her life, she meets wacky characters like the chick who wants her sexy demon back, and she starts to sense that her family might not have played quite as loving a role in her life as she’d thought.
I loved a lot of this movie in spite of its serious flaws. I adored the look and feel of it. It’s all glowy turquoise, pink, yellow, with spooky sultry music on the jukebox. The scenes of Ava in the aftermath of catastrophe were heartbreaking. There were big laughs–the film is “shaped” like a horror-comedy, although really it’s not funny super often. It made me think about not only addiction & my experience with alcoholism, but also about people I’ve known who deal with depression. I definitely recognized the morning-after hunt for clues, the fragmented memories. It made me think about how one of the most vertiginous elements of alcoholism is that you do remember so much of it–you were there, so what on earth were you thinking? The distorted thinking of addiction is so baffling when you’re out of it, and so all-consuming and inescapable when you’re in it. And those distortions of your mind, as with depression, can lead you to hurt the people who care about you.
Heavy stuff for a sexy-demon movie, man…. Anyway, there’s too much plot furniture, there’s dumb magic-technology, and the theology here is horrifyingly American. You can totally conquer demons by willpower! You can invite your demon back, and the outcome will be exactly what you want it to be, because you’re a strong determined woman! Oh my gosh, that is such a scary and destructive message, the demand for strength and independence instead of surrender to a Higher Power, the belief that you can indulge in a little light evil if it hurts the people who want to hurt you. Kids, for real, do not mess with demons.
Here is the Deadly Doll’s review, which is how I found this weird, flawed gem.