Post-apocalypse slow-burner Stake Land, produced by Larry Fessenden, is Jim Mickle and Nick Damici's follow-up to the killer-rats-infest-the-Lower-East-Side flick Mulberry Street. It's an ambitious hybrid, grafting the ethereal, landscape-driven, light-infused beauty and naif narration associated with Terrence Malick onto a tale in which struggle against supernatural forces is just one challenge of coming of age — a trope that has become inescapably trendy of late, but hasn't had such a sense of balance between the fantastic and the organic since the heyday of Joss Whedon.
Seventeen-year-old Martin (Connor Paolo) is orphaned by killer vampires and saved by bad- ass drifter Mister (Damici). The pair head west toward a supposed promised land, across a convincingly devastated landscape (the art direction complements actual landmarks of decaying Americana), fighting bloodsuckers and the neo-Aryan nuts who worship them (and even flew planes full of vamps into national landmarks). How it came to pass that "they" took over is never fully explained: We only know that at some indeterminate point, trouble started and didn't stop, and now those left alive are adapting by any means necessary.
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The narration is sometimes cloying, the Mother Mary metaphors are pumped hard and the aesthetics can verge on self-parody (Martin's vamp-dusting training reliably takes place at magic hour). But it's thick with a distinct mood — the sadness and exhilaration of having nothing left to lose — and the characters, in their desperation and drive, feel real. Fessenden may be producing the best brains-before-blood horror in North America today. (Sunset 5)