America is a lost nation. When an epidemic of vampirism strikes, humans find themselves on the run from vicious, feral beasts. Cities are tombs and survivors cling together in rural pockets, fearful of nightfall. When his family is slaughtered, young Martin (Connor Paolo) is taken under the wing of a grizzled, wayward hunter (Nick Damici) whose new prey are the undead.
Simply known as Mister, the vampire stalker takes Martin on a journey through the locked-down towns of America’s heartland, searching for a better place while taking down any bloodsuckers that cross their path. Along the way they recruit fellow travellers, including a nun (Kelly McGillis) who is caught in a crisis of faith when her followers turn into ravenous beasts. This ragtag family unit cautiously moves north, avoiding major thoroughfares that have been seized by The Brethren, a fundamentalist militia that interprets the plague as the Lord’s work.
Director Jim Mickle first grabbed the attention of horror film fans with his zombie-rat thriller Mulberry Street, in which Damici also starred and served as co-writer. They have teamed up again to deliver an even darker and bloodier shocker. Drawing on the post-apocalyptic frenzy described by Richard Matheson (author of the novel I Am Legend) and George Romero, Stake Land is a road movie with fangs, similar in its phantasmagoric journey to Gareth Edwards’s Monsters (also featured in this year’s Festival).
With indie horror director Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter) serving as producer, Stake Land excels in large part because of Fessenden’s choice to take bigger chances and make bolder choices in spite of budget limitations. Fessenden has been supportive of the new wave of indie American horror directors like Mickle, Ti West and J.T. Petty, who are making the most of their micro-budgets in ways that would stymie their Hollywood brethren.
The story of a live boy in a dead world, Stake Land is a bloodcurdling mix of honest scares and gripping action. [Synopsis courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival/Colin Geddes]