In the opening frames of Jim Mickle’s
dystopian vampire melodrama (at the Roxie) which plays like a real movie, a
grizzled red neck, Mister (co-writer Nick Damici ) is behind the wheel of a
battered muscle car with a young man, Martin (Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo),
nervously riding shotgun. Suddenly there are ghoulish noises emanating from the
trunk. Without hesitating Mister empties a revolver through the back seat
silencing the cries.
Stake Land slams
immediately into flashback gear as Martin – Paolo is an engaging narrator as
well as a serious pretty face in a sea of blood spurting ghouls – explains how
the United States has been overrun by an infestation of zombie like vampires,
some dropped over major cities by a diabolical Christian sect, the Brotherhood,
“that’s how Washington fell.”
Unlike the lugubrious, faithful to
a fault version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the makers of Stake
Land are not puritanically wed to some dystopian fantasy creed – this
sucker bobs and weaves like a real story whose end point and moral are
completely up for grabs. Apart from our delicious boy narrator, anybody in the
cast can and often does fall victim to the blood suckers. And unlike the
riotously campy Zombieland, Stake Land plays it relatively straight,
except for the exuberant guest appearance of the out lesbian Kelly McGillis as
a nun fleeing rabid Christians and their zombie confederates. McGillis, last
seen in the queer detective procedural The Monkey’s Mask, sort of drops
in unexpectedly in a drama that often feels like a mini-series.
Despite a bargain basement ghoulish
budget, Stake Land is shot with a digital process that closely mimics
the texture of film, plus the filmmakers shot the picture across several
seasons giving the story a rich lived in feel that is not maniacally ruled by
some internal zombie clock where the beasts must appear with punctuality of hit
songs in a tight list radio format.
Director/co-writer Jim Mickle is a
relaxed, friendly dude who’s paid his industry dues on a variety of indie
projects including a one day stint on John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, plus
some time lighting the Felicity Huffman vehicle Transamerica.
David Lamble: I loved Connor Paolo as your intrepid
Jim Mickle: He’s very creative for a performer so
young – his dad’s a film critic. At first I resisted him because of Gossip
Girl – I wanted to find some unknown kid, but my people kept saying
Connor’s the one.
Lamble: He has that fantastic scene playing a stoner
with Michael Angarano who finds the dead kid’s body in Snow Angels.
Mickle: He’s great in that but still a little cocky –
I wanted a kid you wanted to throw your arms around and say everything’s going
to be alright. But I gave in and he brought so much to Martin.
Lamble: Queer fans of Kelly McGillis will be happy to
see her return.
Mickle: She’s meant to represent the good side of
religion – to be honest I don’t know how we got her, pure luck.