Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Writer: Nick Damici
Producer: Peter Phok, Larry Fessenden, Greg Newman
Stars: Connor Paolo, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Bonnie Dennison, Kristina Hughes, Steven Williams, Nick Damici
When the Brotherhood reforms under a new vampire leader, Martin searches for Mister to help avenge the destruction of New Eden.
Martin and Peggy’s ‘happily ever after’ ending at the conclusion of “Stake Land” lasted long enough to produce a darling daughter named Belle. It did not however, outlast an onslaught from a rebuilt Brotherhood and their band of berserkers led by a powerful she-vampire known as The Mother.
Mother’s coven of fanged freaks and cloaked fanatics mercilessly laid waste to the Canadian safe haven of New Eden. Mother made the attack personal by targeting Martin’s newfound family for painful extermination. Now Martin wants revenge. And he knows exactly the right man to help him.
Martin returns south through the savagery of the ‘stake lands’ in search of Mister. The journey is even more perilous solo than it was when he was Mister’s protégé, and it doesn’t get any easier once he finds who he is looking for. Reunited with the fabled vampire hunter who made him a man, Martin and Mister discover their wasteland world is deadlier than ever. Given the ways they both have changed, the two men must rediscover each other if they are to continue to adapt and survive.
A lot of lightning was caught in “Stake Land’s” bottle in 2010. Virtually every element was some take on a trope, from the premise of vampires mixed into an apocalyptic aftermath to protagonists featuring a gritty nomad mentoring a forced-to-grow-fast teen. Yet the indie filmmaking spirit present in each sincere subtlety of direction, design, acting, and narrative combined for an immersive dystopian fantasy embedding huge hooks in spite of conventions employed.
“Stake Land II,” previously known as just “The Stakelander” for a nickname Mister earns in the movie, reunites a fair chunk of the first film’s principle people. Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden are back on board as producers. The three actors who survived “Stake Land” also reprise their roles, with lead Nick Damici contributing the screenplay once again.
What’s missing this time around is Jim Mickle’s creative input as co-writer and director, with latter duties now stewarded by the duo of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Through elimination, it stands to reason Mickle’s addition to the collective vision is the absent ingredient keeping the sequel from summoning the same scope of magic. Because “Stake Land II” is fine for a follow-up, but it doesn’t have the resounding punch of its predecessor.
“Stake Land” (review here) was no stranger to formulaic scenarios, though the briskness with which it bounded from beat to beat while details helped distract put fresh skin on its fiction. “Stake Land 2” is similarly episodic in structure, except its setups are scraped from a really dry well.
See if you can anticipate how each of these scenarios ends:
- Martin is taken in by a cagey couple eager to serve him soup in a bowl given its own close-up. Martin wonders aloud why he is the only one eating. Do you think his meal might be… drugged?
- A nervous Brotherhood lieutenant is forced to report his mission failure directly to Mother. Will she spare him with mercy or put her fist through his chest for not carrying out her command?
- A small camp’s jailor who brings prisoners food is a sweet, gullible girl. The lone inmate insists what they say about him isn’t true. He pleads with her for freedom, promising he won’t cause trouble at all. Is he playing possum? Will she fall for his ruse?
Predictability isn’t the problem. It’s the way plot points are staged, as though viewers are too dim to remember callbacks on their own. It’s enough that camp leader Bat makes a clear point about his twin generators’ importance while giving Martin a tour. We’ll get it when they are blown up later. We don’t need a 12-second dolly into a close-up of the machinery after characters have already left the shot.
Outside of all this obviousness, it’s enjoyable to take another trip into the “Stake Land” setting. Connor Paolo’s transformation into an older, wiser, vengeful Martin is a compelling arc for his once one-note character. Mister regressing in the other direction as sympathetic tendencies erode his ruthlessness works just as well. Their dynamic was the original’s core. In moments when their character evolution is at the fore, that is when the sequel works best.
It could be my perception because “Stake Land II” debuted on SyFy. But where the first film felt cinematic in style, this one seems small screen in presentation. That doesn’t necessarily equal docked points. There’s just a tempo that is tied into keeping accessible action arriving at on cue intervals, never lingering long on more introspective moments if they aren’t helping maintain the TV tone.
It was always likely that living up to “Stake Land” would be a losing proposition. “Stake Land” had serendipitous stars aligning and the timing of its release hit the right window for horror fans. Add a few years and the landscape is different for this kind of film. Without co-creator Jim Mickle at the wheel, “Stake Land II” was destined to sail in choppy waters no matter what.
All things considered, commitment from cast and crew comes through to make the sequel worth a watch. Everyone is still playing it straight on both sides of the lens, keeping campiness mostly in check. Dead worlds are rarely this vibrant. Characters, even clichéd ones, are still colorful. Too much routine ensures the second spin can’t scratch the same itch as the first. Yet for anyone fascinated to see the difference ten story years makes for Mister, Martin, and the stake lands, “Stake Land II” is a suitable successor good for 90 minutes of melodramatic horror entertainment.
Review Score: 75