Stake Land (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at this atmospheric vampire feature with Metrodome's BD...
A young boy (Connor Paolo, Gossip Girl) is about to learn how cruel the world can become. Martin was a normal teenager before the country collapsed in an empty pit of disaster and a vampire epidemic swept across the nation's abandoned towns and cities. It is up to Mister (Nick Damici, Mulberry Street, World Trade Center), a death dealing, rogue vampire hunter, to get Martin to safety. Armed with a trunk full of wooden stakes and a desperate will to stay alive, Mister and Martin make their way through locked-down towns, recruiting fellow travelers along the way. Among them are a devout nun (Kelly McGillis, The Accused, Top Gun) and a pregnant teen (Danielle Harris, Halloween, Halloween 2)... As with his hit, Mulberry Street, Jim Mickle creates a dark and terrifying world, although this time it is fully stocked with the most vicious vampires in recent film history. Stake Land is a gritty, post-apocalyptic road movie with teeth! (from the Metrodome synopsis)
Another review, another feature shot with with Red One digital cameras, and as with most films utilising this cinematographic process I generally have a lot of positive things to say. The 2.35:1 widescreen (1080/24p AVC) transfer exhibits plenty of detail and showcases the varied locations nicely, with fine texturing not just on fabrics and environmental objects, but also faces. The palette is a mixture of warm, sun-bleached daytime exteriors and steely blue night-time scenes, punctuated by the occasional appearance of lush greens whenever the characters enter the forests, and although it's been digitally graded the palette retains a fairly natural look with regard to things like skin tones. Black levels and contrast are also pretty strong, with the darker scenes (of which there are many) occasionally illuminated by the glow of camp fires, but more often than not bathed in the eerie silver light of the moon. Some crush is in evidence, but this could easily be by design and it's not something I find particularly bothersome in this instance. I don't believe there are any significant artefacts, and although a little bit of banding is visible in a couple of scenes I again think it can be attributed to the original material as the scenes involve effects shots like lens flair. To be honest with you I really liked the film's visual style and I'm struggling to come up with any technical negatives. On this whole it is a very pleasing effort worthy of high praise.
The video is accompanied by a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that provides bags of atmosphere. Although quite an uncomplicated affair, little touches like the sound of crickets chirping during the opening scenes, the Brotherhood's propaganda and hymns coming over the radio, or the sound of thunder and pouring rain really help to sell the environments and give you a sense of the characters' isolation. Elsewhere cars and helicopters are steered around the soundstage with precision and some of the vamp attacks will have you looking over the back of your seat (particularly during the scene when one is actually trying to get through a back seat of a car). There's also some fairly potent bass in everything from car engines and thunder to the frequent vamp encounters, during which every stake is hammered home with thunderous support from the LFE channel. The film's moody soundtrack sets a sombre, melancholic tone for much of the runtime, but it's not afraid to delve into more forceful territory during the livelier moments. Not every film requires hugely elaborate sound design to offer an effective aural experience, and indeed I'm a fan of tracks that deliver an engaging, restrained experience. This is one of those tracks.
The bonus material includes a pair of commentary tracks, a lengthy making of featurette, pre-production diaries, VFX breakdowns and a series of webisodes. The first commentary feature writer/director Jim Mickle, and co-writer/actor Nick Damici, actor Connor Paolo, producer/actor Larry Fessender and producer Brent Kunkle, while the second includes Mickle with producers Peter Phak and Adam Folk, director of photography Ryan Samui, sound designer Grahm Reznick and composer Jeff Grace. Both tracks are reasonably entertaining and informative, if not what I'd call essential listening. The making of takes the form of a fly-on-the-wall documentary that offers some insight into what the shoot was like, but it lacks voice-over to contextualise the on-screen events and I felt strangely detached. The pre-production material deals with the evolution from web series to full-blown feature film in a brief but entertaining manner, and the VFX breakdowns are quite revealing with regards to things like colour grading, despite their brevity. The webisodes are also quite interesting, as they provide a glimpse of what each of the characters was doing just prior to the events of the film.
Earlier in the year I went into a theatrical screening Stake Land without knowing much of anything about the film, and it ended up being one of the better flicks I'd seen up until that point. In fact, if I'm being brutally honest it still stands as one of the highlights in an otherwise fairly disappointing year for mainstream cinema. Technically Metrodome's Blu-ray is great, and while I know some people aren't fans of the digital look it allows for a remarkably clean, detailed image, which when coupled with an effective and atmospheric audio track makes for a very enjoyable viewing experience. The bonus material isn't quite as informative as I'd have liked, but the commentary tracks deliver a decent amount of information and the webisodes are something a bit different. It's certainly one of the better horror films I've seen recently and if you like your vampire movies dark, moody and nihilistic you're sure to enjoy Stake Land.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 17th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Making of, Pre-Production Diaries, VFX Breakdowns, Webisodes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Sean Nelson, Michael Cerveris, Bonnie Dennison
Length: 98 minutes
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