The secret of any good apocalyptic film is about making a global event feel like a personal one. In the case of “Stake Land,” it’s about what each character has to lose.
At stake for Mister (Nick Damici) is the survival of his young ward, Martin (Connor Paolo). At stake for Belle (Danielle Harris) is the birth of her child in a hostile world. At stake for Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) is his fanatical faith, a position diametrically posed to the kind-hearted nun Sister (Kelly McGillis). Everyone has something to lose in a world roiled by a vampire plague, where rapists, murderers, and human apathy are much a threat as the blood-sucking hordes.
And so Mister and Martin make their way, collecting vampire fangs as currency, with Mister teaching his apprentice how to effectively kill the monsters. They work best as a pair, but Mister has his own personal code that causes him to immediately murder two rapists — which will have serious repercussions later.
What “Stake Land” does best is not focus on the vampires (basically, sun-fearing zombies), but on the ragtag family that forms around Mister and Martin. As each survivor slowly succumbs to the cruel world, Mister begins to consider what his goals really are. New Eden, a place that may or may not exist, comes to represent that future. In a world chock full of vampires, when can a vampire hunter truly be at peace?
Mister’s evolution: as protector, as guardian, and finally as parent, leaves him with only one answer. To “Stake Land’s” credit, it doesn’t give us neatly wrapped endings but instead leaves us with hope. In the end, all Mister can trust in is that the next generation will learn from the mistakes of the past — the hope of every weary adult that ever looks upon our current state of affairs in despair.
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