Blu-Ray Review: Stake Land

JULY 31, 2011


Still resting comfortably in my top 5 of the year, Stake Land is now on DVD and Blu-ray, packed with bonus material and (on the Blu at least) a gorgeous transfer that actually improves on the digital showing I saw at the Sunset 5 during its perfunctory, largely unadvertised theatrical release. And since it’s a movie that I actually enjoy more on repeat viewings, I’m glad it’s finally widely available for folks to check out in a proper presentation (i.e. not some streaming OnDemand horseshit).

As I said in my original review, the movie is not unlike The Road, but far superior: less award-wanting acting, more danger. Nick Damici’s script isn’t too concerned with long bouts of exposition, allowing the actors to work with their eyes and gestures instead of their words (probably the sort of thing that attracted Kelly McGillis, who hadn’t been in a feature for years). And while there are no big all out attack set-pieces, there’s actually quite a bit of action; I don’t think there’s ever more than 10 minutes in between some burst of violence (either at the hands of a vamp or one of the religious cult members who seem to be more vile than the damn creatures). Also, without spoiling – none of the heroes are safe, with one kill in particular being a painfully harsh shock moment.

If you Google “Stake Land score” (no quotes), the first thing that comes up is my original review, which I should be proud of but actually kind of bums me out. Jeff Grace’s work here is his best ever, and actually IS available (via iTunes), so I don’t see why the link to buy it isn’t higher than the link of a blogger praising it, but whatever. I’m glad it’s released, and if I had one complaint about the evolution of DVDs over the years (besides forced trailers at the top) it would be that isolated scores w/composer commentary seem to be a thing of the past – I would have loved to have heard him talk in between his cues.

Grace does appear on one of the two commentary tracks, but doesn’t say much. Director Jim Mickle is the main participant, and along with Grace there’s the sound designer and the DP and a couple producers – gets a little crowded. Unsurprisingly, most of the track is technically oriented, discussing how shots were pulled off, where locations were, etc. There’s a fun camaraderie among the gang, and Mickle admirably points out a few mistakes (including a minor plot hole involving the trunk of the heroes’ car), making it a good track, but since Mickle also takes charge of the other track, featuring Damici, actor Connor Paolo, Larry Fessenden, and one of the other producers, I wish that they had just let Mickle and Damici have their own track to discuss the story and other natures, and then had another with all of these guys (even one edited together from multiple recordings) so we could get a little more insight on their contributions. Still, both were enjoyable to listen to and chock full of information, with very little overlap.

And both are of far more use than the behind the scenes doc, which runs about an hour but says almost nothing. Halfway through there’s some interviews with the principals, but otherwise it’s just an hour of random b-roll of the production, more often than not without any context whatsoever. It’s nice that they give title cards to pretty much every crew person of note, and it’s not without entertainment value, but it could have been cut down to 20 minutes and had the same effect, and it’s a shame that there’s no real insight to the process offered. Near the end, Sean Nelson jokes about how they should be able to shoot the following scene in two takes, but the scene in question is the triumphant single shot sequence where the vamps attack the town they have just arrived in – they could have spent an hour just detailing the production of this shot/sequence, but that’s all there is to it.

Of much more interest to me was the collection of video diaries, each focusing on a different aspect of the production. All five are fascinating, showing some of the emails that led to the development of the script in the pre-production diary, and another (yes!) gives a glimpse into the post production process, including the scoring sessions. I also loved the one about the visual effects – many created by Mickle himself – where you see a lot of before/after shots and probably get shocked as to how many elements (graffiti, road signs, etc) were created invisibly with CGI. I also enjoyed the character origin short films, which were shot for the website and released leading up to the film’s theatrical bow. As expected, they are hit or miss depending on your personal tastes (and possibly how much/little you liked a particular character); I enjoyed the ones focusing on Mister, Belle, and Willie the most (Mister’s also explains the significance of the skull necklace he wears). I also dug the general “Origins” piece (directed by Fessenden himself), which runs a bit long but has a terrifically gruesome final moment. The film’s trailer rounds out the supplements.

Dark Sky and co have also provided a terrific transfer for the film; again, I honestly think it looks better than it did at the theater I saw it at, and the sound mix is better than most big budget productions – the one-take siege sequence might end up being demo material for your surround speakers. The intentionally muted colors look perfect, and in turn during those rare warm scenes (Danielle Harris’ character's introduction, for example) just look all the more wonderful. In short, you’d probably be pretty stunned to hear how much the film cost to produce after watching this disc.

I tweeted last night that this was one of my top 5, and was met with some derision, so I should probably point out that I have a deep love for these sort of “isolation” movies (Cast Away is one of my all time favorite films), and several scenes reminded me of a dream project I’ve been writing in my head for the past couple years, which didn’t bum me out but more made me realize that it’s probably a good idea. The slower pace and Malick-esque stretches of silence and “beauty shots” may not be for everyone, but if you can appreciate the tone and approach they were taking with the material, I’m sure you’ll have no qualms about adding this disc to your collection.

What say you?


  1. Great movie. Just watched it the other day. It is a beautiful film to look at and I appreciated the care that went into the cinematography. I wish the movie had been longer because I wanted to see more of the world they were in. I also like how Mister had names for the different styles or variants of the vamps.

    Nitpicks? Too much needless voiceover and the climax could've been better.

  2. One of my favorite vampire movies! A unique approach to the human threat villains. The cinematography was beautiful! I hoped for additional information on a few points. Some additional background on Mister would have been nice. The ending was a bit much though. I would have chosen a different & happier ending. Not much to complain about. A great movie overall.


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