Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror

“Stake Land” – Welcome to the Vampire Apocalypse

The similarity in the title of the indie vampire drama Stake Land (Dark Skies/MPI) and the 2009 comic zombie road movie horror Zombieland is coincidental but fitting, as much for the differences in the films as for the similarities. There’s a plague turning humans into undead creatures out for blood, an orphaned boy (Connor Paolo as Martin) learning to survive, a father figure (Nick Damici) with an unspoken past (he’s simply known as Mister to one and all) and rumors of a safe place far away. And the vamps here are a lot more like zombies (by way of feral carnivores) than the social creatures we associate with vampire cabals.

But the similarities end there. This is no gallows comedy, it’s a survival drama that has more in common with The Road or George Romero’s late Dead films, but without the soul-crushing bleakness of the former or the horror-as-spectacle of the latter. The cabal here is a fringe Christian sect turned authoritarian cult that thinks the bloodsuckers were sent by God to cleanse humanity and they figure anyone who doesn’t tow their line needs a fatal cleansing. Quite frankly, they are scarier than the vamps.

The symbolism isn’t all that subtle and the backwoods fanatics tend toward hysterical stereotype—neo-Nazi nightmare by way of survivalist nutcase—but director Jim Mickle and co-screenwriter Nick Damici keep the film focused on the people and the relationships. There’s a scruffy immediacy to the direction—low budget production, practical locations and shooting on the fly—but also a grace to the imagery and a commitment to the performances. These characters don’t break loose and confess all, but the sense of comfort they find in one another warms the film.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews

SIFF 2011: Vampire

Don’t expect vampire gore and supernatural thrills in this long, slow exploration of youthful angst and alienation. In his first English-language movie, writer-director Iwai Shunji clearly didn’t have commercial prospects or mainstream audiences in mind. Since he shot, edited, and composed original music for Vampire, it’s clear that Shunji knew precisely what kind of world and weather he wanted to create: a whited-out landscape (the Pacific Northwest) in which young people drift aimlessly, drained of any emotion that might propel them toward meaning or intimacy or life itself. These kids are like ghosts in the machine, the machine being the Internet, on which they hook up long-distance.

Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes

In Shunji’s brilliant All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), a dreamy pop singer offered a way for high school kids to connect as fans, to escape the isolation of self. In Vampire it’s a website called Side by Cide, home page for the suicidal. The young women whom vampire wannabe Simon (Kevin Zegers) meets on line and promises to help die often seem half-dead already: fragile, ethereal, fading from a disease called despair. And despair rarely comes rooted in the specific; the virus seems to be in the very air the likes of Jellyfish, Gallows, Gargoyle, Eclipse, and Ladybird breathe.

Simon’s a biology instructor who teaches his blank-faced students that we are all “slaves to millions of cells.” Such biological determinism is hardly designed to cheer up this generation of sad sacks—as Mina, an Asian teen Simon rescues from hanging herself, points out. With his pallor, wispy ‘stache, and lank hair, Simon looks like the kind of guy who puts in long hours in front of his computer, unlikely to ever be deflowered skin to skin.

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