“I’m in a dick-shooting mood today.”
When it comes to sequels, it’s hard to follow what has come before. It’s also hard in this day and age, where genre franchises pump out sequels, reboots and spinoffs on the regular, to know if the audience you got for the first film is the same that will show up for the second installment. It’s caused producers to attempt to play to both returning audiences that enjoyed your first product as well as brand new viewers who are coming to your work for the first time. Every film must stand on it’s own…..that how things should be, really. Which brings us to The Stakelander, the sequel to 2010’s Stake Land, that played last evening at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. While I can’t personally speak to it compared to the first film, I can say that as a new audience to the world crafted by the film’s star, Nick Damci, I was intrigued and invested in the film.
The Stakelander takes place roughly 10 years after the first film. Martin (played by Connor Paolo), the young traveler that was saved by Mister (Damici) previously, has now settled in New Eden (also known as Canada) and started a family. He hasn’t seen Mister in years and things are peaceful for him, his wife and daughter. That is until the vampires come North and lay New Eden to waste. Martin finds himself alone and returns to the Stake Lands to find the one man that can help him exact revenge.
The film is essentially a post-apocalyptic western with vampires. There’s a young, gallant gunslinger (in this case, an arrow-slinger), a stranger who can set the wrong things right, a people needing saving from an oppressor and even a big shoot out in the third act. This pacing works great in the barren wasteland setting. The introduction of the characters is also handled well as a first time watcher can easily pick up the relationships set up in the previous films along with the implied back story of new characters as well. Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen do a great job of letting this film stand on it’s own and don’t rest on the idea that the viewer should already know the lay of the land. At the same time, they don’t get overly specific with the presentation either. At no point does the film talk down to the viewer. It gives you a fully formed world and lets you know just the right amount of info needed so you can kick back and enjoy the performances.
It goes without saying that the most enjoyable performance in the film is provided by Nick Damici. Reprising his bad-ass role seems effortless for him and seeing as he’s the screenwriter, he also has some of the best lines in the piece. Even when the chips are down, there’s always a glimmer of hope because Mister is still breathing. He plays the ultimate vamp killer and shows no fear. It helps that he’s backed up by a couple strong supporting performances, most notably by Laura Abramsen and A.C. Peterson.
Laura plays Lady, a young woman who grew up feral, living like an animal and eventually as someone’s slave for a period. She’s got no lines as she cannot speak, making growls and grunts her only form of communication. At first, this is a bit comedic. But as the film progresses, you can see the great level of information and emotion she communicates through her movements and facial expressions. There’s an innocence to her performance that really informs the audience throughout her character arc. While not the main focus of the movie, her subtle performance adds a layer to its ominous environment.
A.C. Peterson plays Bat, an aging freedom fighter who teamed with Mister back in the day in Mexico. He’s your straight shooting, battle tested old soldier. He’s in for a good fight. What’s most interesting is his relationship with Doc Earl (played by Steven Williams), another old hand of the group. The two have been through hell together for over a decade and have forged a bond stronger than anything either one has. This is summed up perfectly in a brief, tender moment between the two men during the 3rd act of the film. It’s a genuine showing of affection that is shown in a realistic manner, thus giving it more emotional power.
As for the 3rd act itself, I will say that it was a bit underwhelming from an action standpoint. While a lot does happen during the climax of the film, it’s doesn’t really deliver in a “grand finale” sort of way. Thanks to some great character moments, it does deliver on an emotional level. If the viewer gets invested in our heroes early on, there are some great scenes to enjoy. But if you’re looking for big action, this might not be the movie for you.
If you’re a fan of vampire films or post-apocalyptic movies, this film is worth checking out. I cannot comment on whether fans of Stake Land will enjoy the film. I can say as a first timer in the Stake Land Universe, I was entertained by what The Stakelander had to offer. I do suggest you see the “director’s cut” of the film but if you don’t have access to that, The Stakelander airs on Syfy again on October 29th at 1pm.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!