Monday, 17 September 2012

Stakeland: something of a let down

I'd been quite disappointed that I didn't get a chance to see Stakeland in the cinema - short run, limited release, exile in the wastes of the Hidden City where the only things which ever open are adaptations of comic books and video games - there were, as they say on the intarwebs, reasons. So I picked up on DVD, as you do in this age where anything you haven't seen can be snapped up for a fiver on Amazon and put in the big stack of things which seemed like a good idea at the time. A movie now costs about as much as a couple of beers, and it's probably not reasonable to expect more from it than that.

I imagine that if the people who had made Winter's Bone set out to make a vampire movie, it would have been a lot like Stakeland, except, presumably, I wouldn't have spent part of the time I was watching it shopping on the internet. It's not a bad movie, but it's not as good as it needed to be to hold my attention, so it was going on there in the background, the characters taciturnly engaging with the lack of obvious plot until I realised that I'd just put more of my attention into replacing a scratched up screen protector for one of my cameras than I had into what was happening on the TV in front of me. Hmmm, I thought absently, this is not gripping stuff.

The ideas are interesting, although, as ever, it's the logistics of vamp-world which bother me. In Stakeland's vision of the vampire world, vamps are not overburdened with sense or taste, and are best seen as zombies with sunshine issues and less of a tendency to shamble. They'd be comically easy to kill if it weren't for the fact that they're ridiculously hard to kill, needing a solid hit to the heart or the spine to take them off the count. When I say solid, I mean you need one guy with a stake and ideally another with a hammer to make sure the stake stays in. So they make up for their transcendent dumbness with a certain resilience. Still, they're vampires. I don't know how much mileage a vamp gets from a tank of O negative, but considering that they kill one person per fill and tend to create competition for the next fill in doing so, I can never figure out how vampires wouldn't starve to death unless they were very savvy about holding down the numbers of actual vampires (for a more entertaining meditation on this exact problem, check out Daybreakers). Anyhow, since pretty much everyone in Stakeland is a redneck, there isn't a whole lot of meditation on the economics of the situation, but there's plainly been one heck of a lot of vampire predation in the months before we check into their world. The USA has collapsed, and seems to have suffered something on the order of a 90% dieback. 

Stakeland has a structure a bit like the infinitely more enjoyable Zombieland, a film which I can't believe I didn't blog about, except that at the time I saw it, I tended to blog only about things which were just terrible. You've got a grizzled old vampire hunter, and a kid who's effectively his apprentice, and a couple of women they pick up along the way, and a generalised quest to get to somewhere a lot less infested with the undead, punctuated with lots of encounters WITH the undead. One big difference is that Stakeland, wisely or unwisely, is not playing things for laughs. Another is that although the vampires themselves seem to have less intellectual firepower than the zombies in 28 Days Later, they do have allies. Not smart allies, as such, but at least purposeful ones. The Brotherhood are shaven headed southern fundamentalist loons who have taken a shine to vampiric infestation, figuring that it must be the will of the lord that the unrighteous die horribly. So while the vampires are barely smart enough to come in out of the sun, the Brotherhood are up to all kinds of tricks, including dropping vamps from helicopters into surviving townships. (I wasn't quite clear on how a completely discombobulated USA staffed by fundamentalist leotards would be UP to the challenge of maintaining and flying helicopters, but I gave them a pass for panache; also to the director for realising that helicopters are expensive, but helicopter noises are cheap, so he got the idea across by just having vampires jump into the crowd while playing back whoppa-whoppa noises; I admire parsimony).

Anyhow, since this is all about the bleak, nothing goes well for anyone much, and both the women who get picked up along the way get schwacked, as does pretty much everyone else we meet. One of the women is a nun, played, to my astonishment, by Kelly McGillis. I had to wait for the credits to figure that out, and sit there slightly open mouthed working my way through her other credits and figuring that the doughnut budget for Top Gun was probably way more than she made from this movie. I wonder where it all went wrong for her. 

The young apprentice gets out in one piece, more or less, and his mentor wanders off into the wilderness for reasons not fully clear but doubtless depressing if you thought them through. I'd always thought it would be nice if someone made a horror movie/end of the world movie which tried to take the issues a little bit seriously, but it turns out that it's pretty hard to watch something like that, and all those people who try to make a joke of it or amp up the drama are probably going about it in a more sensible way. We're watching things like this to take our minds off more realistic and pressing problems, after all. No point in being such a debbie downer about the end of the world.

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