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Jim Mickle
Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Bonnie Dennison, Michael Cerveris, Nick Damici, Sean Nelson
Writing Credits:
Nick Damici, Jim Mickle

The most dangerous thing is to be alive.

America has fallen. A vampiric scourge sweeps the nation, turning brother on brother and parent on child as the blood-hungry beasts take deeper and deeper hold upon the land. It s hard for the survivors to know whether to be more afraid of the creatures themselves or the violent religious groups that have sprung up in response, but there is clearly only one choice: fight or die.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$7.258 thousand on 1 screen.
Domestic Gross
$18.469 thousand.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Uncompressed PCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 8/2/2011

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jim Mickle, Writer/Actor Nick Damici, Actor Connor Paolo, Producer/Actor Larry Fessenden and Producer Brent Kunkle
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jim Mickle, Producers Peter Phok and Adam Folk, Director of Photography Ryan Samul, Sound Designer Graham Reznick and Composer Jeff Grace
• “Going for the Throat: The Making of Stake Land” Documentary
• Five Production Video Diaries
• Seven Character Prequels
• Trailer
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Stake Land [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 26, 2011)

Someday all movies will involve vampires. Another entry in that genre comes to us with 2011’s Stake Land. The film presents America as a wasteland overrun by the undead – and not the sexy, hip, suave undead, as these creatures are creepy, crusty and cruel.

We meet Martin (Connor Paolo), a teen whose family gets slaughtered by vampires. A stranger known only as Mister (Nick Damici) saves him and takes him on the road with him as his apprentice. They travel north in search of an alleged safe haven called New Eden, but they encounter many dangers along the way, and not just from the vampires. In addition, violent religious cults have arisen as a response to the undead scourge, and they might be more threatening than the bloodsuckers.

Probably my biggest complaint about Stake involves the use of vampires. Put bluntly, they feel like a gimmick. For all intents and purposes, this is a zombie movie. It plays like a zombie movie, it feels like a zombie movie – and as far as I’m concerned, it is a zombie movie. The vampires here are faster than the average zombies, but they still look more like the walking dead than they do stereotypical vamps; other than stakes through hearts, we see very little here to classify the creatures as vampires.

So why make this a vampire movie and not a zombie flick? Marketing, I’d guess. Vampires are big business these days, so their presence gives the film a chance to cash in on that domain.

Or maybe I’m just cynical and there’s some good filmmaking reason for the monsters to be vampires but I simply can’t find it. Could be, but I remain convinced that in terms of tone and genre, Stake is really a zombie flick, so expect that sort of material from it.

Actually, Stake hews pretty closely to some other genres as well. It follows the “post-apocalyptic wasteland” motif pretty well, and it could also be classified as a Western – a Western with supernatural creatures, but a Western nonetheless.

All of these factors ensure that Stake never feels especially fresh or original, but they don’t mean it’s not engaging. On the negative side, I don’t think the movie develops its characters very well. You can forget about backstory and exposition, as Martin, Mister and the folks they meet along the way don’t recent such frilly niceties; we get a feel for their personalities but not any concrete info to broaden our impressions of them.

However, I don’t think this is as big a problem as it could’ve been. As I mentioned, we do gain a general understanding of the participants even without life specifics, and it’s also somewhat refreshing to find a film that doesn’t come to a halt to let every character tell his/her life story. While a few more hints might’ve been nice, they’re not crucial, and their absence gives the tale a bit more freshness.

Stake is definitely a much more somber tale than we’d expect from the genre. It seems like most modern efforts of this sort either go the “chick flick” route ala Twilight or they opt for laughs like Zombieland. In the case of Stake, however, we have a cold, subdued vision along the lines of The Road. Light moments are few and far between, and even elements of basic human warmth pop up infrequently, at least in an explicit sense; the movie hints at the love the characters share, but it keeps emotion low-key.

Which becomes another likable aspect of the movie. Much of Stake constantly threatens to become trite and predictable; as I noted, it borrows liberally from a mix of genres and never feels like it’ll do much – or anything – to differentiate itself from its predecessors.

That means the film’s execution becomes more important; it can’t do much to win us over with originality or creativity, so it requires solid storytelling and consistency to succeed. Happily, it does so, and its somber tone adds to the experience. This isn’t a monster movie that will encourage you to cheer its blood ‘n’ guts. Oh, it throws out a “trailer moment” or two, but it’s usually subdued and without joy in its violence. The characters slaughter because they must; they rarely take pleasure from their actions.

At times Stake Land feels like a Terence Malick version of a monster movie, as its voice-over narration, low-key nature and languid pacing seem unusual for its genre. Given the overpopulated nature of that genre, though, different is good, and the understated feel of the film serves it well.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

Stake Land appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Not an eye-popping presentation, the transfer served the material well.

Sharpness looked good. A smidgen of softness hit some wider shots, but those instances remained quite insubstantial, so the majority of the flick showed fine clarity and accuracy. Jaggies and shimmering failed to distract, and edge haloes remained absent. The movie also lacked any source flaws and was consistently clean.

In terms of colors, Stake Land went with subdued tones. Parts of the movie featured a yellow tint, but much of it was simply grayish or desaturated. The hues never stood out as memorable, but they weren’t supposed to be impressive, so they were fine for this story’s stripped palette. Blacks were pretty deep, and shadows were generally fine. I thought they could be slightly heavy, at times, but not to a problematic degree. The image narrowly missed “A”-level consideration; it offered a solid “B+” presentation.

Given the low-key storytelling on display, I thought the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack proved to be pretty peppy. Unsurprisingly, the smattering of action scenes fared the best. These used the five channels in a satisfying way; creatures moved around the room, and other elements like vehicles, helicopters, and gunfire created a nice sense of place. General atmosphere was also satisfying, and the score emanated from all five speakers in an involving manner.

In addition, audio quality satisfied. Dialogue was natural and distinctive, without edginess or other issues. Music sounded lively and full, while effects provided good clarity. Those elements seemed accurate and boasted nice vivacity. This became a surprisingly positive presentation.

For a low-budget little-known flick, Stake Land’s Blu-ray comes with lots of extras. We find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which involves writer/director Jim Mickle, writer/actor Nick Damici, actor Connor Paolo, producer/actor Larry Fessenden and producer Brent Kunkle. All of them sit together for a running, screen-specific look at the project’s origins and development, story/character topics, cast and performances, sets and locations, stunts and effects, and thoughts about the shoot.

This commentary delivers a nice overview of the production. It touches on a good variety of topics and does so with a mix of humor and information. We learn quite a bit about the flick and enjoy ourselves along the way.

For the second commentary, we find writer/director Jim Mickle, producers Peter Phok and Adam Folk, director of photography Ryan Samul, sound designer Graham Reznick and composer Jeff Grace. They all sit together for a running, screen-specific chat about cinematography and the use of digital cameras, music and audio, sets and locations, effects, makeup and stunts, editing, and a few other production areas.

This track was recorded prior to the one I already discussed, and in retrospect, I wish I’d listened to it first. Perhaps if I’d screened it before the other track, I might’ve been less disappointed.

On one hand, I’m happy this piece lacks much redundancy; Mickle seems to consciously avoid repetition in the other track, so we don’t have to worry that we’ll hear the same thing twice. However, we also don’t really learn all that much from this piece. The participants joke around a fair amount and just fail to tell us a ton of useful material. We learn some decent nuts and bolts but the track fails to become especially engaging.

Next comes a documentary called Going for the Throat: The Making of Stake Land. It lasts one hour, one minute and 55 seconds as it provides ample footage from the shoot. For the program’s first half, we don’t find a single soundbite from any of the participants, as “Throat” concentrates on straight shots from the set.

Eventually we do get remarks from Mickle, Fessenden, Paolo, and Damici. They throw out some production basics and not much else, so don’t expect to learn a lot. The behind the scenes material remains the star of the show, and that side of things works well. It’d be nice to have a bit more context to set up the shots, but I always like this kind of material, and the piece presents it well enough to be worth a look.

Five Production Video Diaries fill a total of 48 minutes, 58 seconds. In these, we get a mix of elements. We see the film’s first video pitch, various tests, teasers, auditions, training, rehearsals, storyboards, effects progressions, music and sound design, the Toronto Film Festival premiere and post-screening Q&A.

All of these add a lot of good material. We find a solid array of behind the scenes footage and other components that give us nice insights into the processes. Even the Q&A generally avoids redundant material, so expect a positive compilation of pieces in the “Diaries”.

Seven Character Prequels occupy a total of 34 minutes, 25 seconds. Across these, we get glimpses of the film’s participants in the period that led up to the movie’s events. These are a fun way to learn a little more about the characters; even though they exist as promotion, they’re still cool to see.

The disc launches with ads for Wake Wood, Machete Maidens, and Norwegian Ninja. We also get the movie’s trailer.

Though closer to zombie flick than vampire movie, Stake Land offers a satisfying experience. It provides a surprisingly sedate, thoughtful enterprise, and its unusual tone helps make it more interesting. The Blu-ray delivers very good picture and audio along with a surprisingly solid set of supplements. I feel pleased with this movie and this Blu-ray.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main