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Toronto After Dark 2016: “STAKE LAND 2” (Film Review)

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Back in 2010, STAKE LAND was the breakout hit of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program. Fast forward to the present time, 6 years after the cult success of the first film, STAKE LAND 2 (or THE STAKELANDER, depending on the region) has hit Toronto After Dark, right in tandem with its debut on Syfy this past weekend. Though sequels can be a tough sell to an already built-in audience, especially when you throw in a new directorial team (BODY’s Robert Olsen and Dan Berk), STAKE LAND 2 was a real gamble for all involved. However, fans of STAKE LAND will be happy to hear that this gamble payed off tenfold.

STAKE LAND 2 takes the audience 10 years after the first film, with our lead Martin being a little older, wiser and more broken from the brutal murder of his family committed by The Brotherhood and its legion of vamps. The bright eyes and bushy tailed kid with the golden smile has now been replaced by a bearded, worn man with a thousand mile stare. The opening shots of this film, where the camera sits on Martin’s face as we relive the horrors that have landed him here, are gorgeous while relentlessly pulling at your heartstrings. The name of the game now is survival in the badlands while running into a varied cast of characters, which includes those who help and those who hinder along the way.

Connor Paolo reprises his role as Martin, and the actor really holds his own in the film. So fluid is his performance, it feels as if Paolo has been working on expanding upon the Martin we knew over half a decade ago the entire time since. Writer Nick Damici and Paolo have crafted a whole, sympathetic, wise and evolving character in Martin, who, despite being jaded, does have some witty lines peppered within his dialogue.

Damici also returns, reprising his fan favorite role of Mister. Much like Paolo, Damici gives you the feeling that he has also been developing this role since the first film, and not only is his performance great, but his script crafts some really great characters and dialogue among the rest of the cast. Standouts in STAKE LAND 2 include the incredibly emotive yet mute character Lady (Laura Abramsen) and the gruff comic relief with a touch of heart Bat, played by AC Peterson.

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Olsen & Berk’s direction is as strong as Matt Mitchell’s cinematography, which is beautiful and, at times, reminiscent of Robert Altman’s westerns. This writer’s only criticism of the visual direction was that there were moments that were too dark to be able to appreciate, losing some of the practical effects and all the bloody beauty of the vamps in the process.

Speaking to the practical effects, kudos is due to both Pete Gerner and Brian Spears for their work on the film. The FX duo put a lot of time into creating the look of STAKE LAND 2’s creatures, and it shows. Each vamp has its own unique and disgusting aesthetic which lends to them each having their own horrible and identifiable personality. Furthermore, the designs feel like a natural evolution from the first film while never feeling outside that film’s visual continuity.

This writer actually had a hard time finding flaws in this film. Again, the darkness did muddy the aesthetic details of the vamps from time to time, but all in all,  STAKE LAND 2 was impressively effective. In fact, although it’s been nearly since its initial release since I last saw STAKE LAND, the sequel just might be preferable to this writer.

Whatever name is plays under in your city, I recommend you see STAKE LAND 2. Even if you haven’t seen the first STAKE LAND, not to worry, you will still be able to soak in everything this film has to offer. Just don’t sleep on this one, or it may come back to bite you.

About the author
Amy Seidman
Amy Seidman is a Toronto based writer for Fangoria Magazine, Delirium Magazine, Shock Till You Drop and Thrillist. She has a tattoo tribute to Castor Troy from Face/Off and is currently working on her Bates Motel fan fiction "Masterbates Motel." She is proud of her life decisions. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram..
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