TADFF 2016 Review: The Stakelander

One of the best vampire films of the past decade was an indie film called Stake Land. It tied together a gritty, desperate post-apocalyptic world with a solid road trip story of survival and frightening vampires that carried zombie-like tendencies. The film was a great alternative to the more popular Hollywood vampire films such as the Twilight franchise. So when it was announced unexpectedly that a sequel to the hit film had been finished without anyone outside the production team even knowing it was happening, anticipation immediately skyrocketed. Dan Berk and Robert Olsen return us to this world in the follow-up titled The Stakelander. However, while they have put forth a noble effort, this one fails to live up to the incredibly strong original.

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It’s been 10 years since the events of the first one. The zombie apocalypse is still raging but the remaining humans have become more skilled at surviving. Martin (Connor Paolo) has been on his own for months. His wife and daughter have been killed by the Brotherhood and their new vampire leader and they have destroyed New Eden, the safe haven he had called home. He is now on a journey to track down Mister (Nick Damici), the hunter that saved him and kept him alive a decade ago. He hopes to find him so they together can track down and kill those responsible for the death of his loved ones.  Along the way they meet some of Mister’s old friends and take refuge in an enclosure camp designed to keep the vamps out. Clinging to ideas of hope, a betrayal leads to a showdown that becomes a do-or-die situation. Perhaps the time has finally come to bravely face the inevitable.

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Several elements of the original film are successfully carried forward to this film. Lead actors Paolo and Damici return to the characters they wonderfully realized previously. They were still likeable in this but the characters’ personalities had changed. Perhaps that can be attributed to the passage of time and the constant change of what it takes to survive. While not quite as strong as the previous outing, what makes these characters tick is still present. The vampire makeup and choreography were also quite strong.  They are quite a menacing threat. However, not quite as so since the world we now travel through is not quite as dark and desperate as a decade ago.

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Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen

That leads to what is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this film, and that is the departure from the bleak, grey, lifeless setting of the first. That gave Stake Land a wonderfully grounded world that lead to the viewer experiencing the menacing desperation right along with the characters. The strong survival instincts and human connection was missing from The Stakelander. The overall world just didn’t feel nearly as threatening as it needed to be. The plot of the story also fell short of being as compelling as the original. It turned into yet another journey of revenge that we’ve seen countless times before.

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Lead actor Connor Paolo and supporting actress Laura Abramsen during the Q&A following the film.

The Stakelander is an enjoyable outing, especially for vampire fans and if it’s paired together with the original. Just don’t expect it to be anything standing nearly as tall as its outstanding predecessor.

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