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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

If The Walking Dead featured vampires instead of zombies…

Illustration for article titled If The Walking Dead featured vampires instead of zombies…

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In anticipation of the dystopian Aussie crime drama The Rover, check out these other post-apocalyptic visions.


Stake Land (2010)

Despite its considerable resemblance to The Walking Dead, director Jim Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici’s Stake Land distinguishes itself through a melancholy lyricism and efficient attention to detail. In a world torn asunder by a plague of vampirism in which the undead take a form more akin to rabid animals (or zombies) than Dracula, American teen Martin (Connor Paolo) watches his family perish at the hands of bloodsuckers but is saved by world-weary Mister (Damici), who takes the kid under his wing. Their journey across a crumbling rural Northeast is marked by practical survival tactics and encounters with both unholy creatures and human rapists, murderers, and religious wackos. Whether camping in the forest, passing through locked-down towns, or driving on abandoned highways, Mister and Martin find themselves adrift in a country hopelessly gone to seed—a situation that breeds little hope, even as Martin comes of age with guidance from his surrogate father figure, a hardened badass with no interest in anything but making it to the following dawn.

Though a sexually abused nun (Kelly McGillis) and a pregnant teen (Danielle Harris) eventually cross paths with the heroes, it’s Mister and Martin’s relationship that forms the core of Stake Land. Aside from Martin’s sporadic narration, there’s little dialogue spoken by either character; their bond is instead forged through mutual reliance. In evocative montages set to Jeff Grace’s forlorn score, silent passages of preparation for (and recovery from) battle, and a stunning centerpiece involving a joyful communal gathering disrupted by an unlikely aerial attack, Mickle sharply delineates his characters’ fundamental natures and shifting emotional states. An abrupt finale aims to conclude things on an upbeat note about passing on a legacy of self-sufficiency to future generations. But it’s a too-little-too-late gesture for a film filthy with neo-Nazis, slaughtered innocents, and lynching imagery, and hence defined by a sense of overwhelming despair.

Availability: Stake Land is available on DVD, to rent or purchase through the major digital services, and to stream on Netflix.