Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 2, 2017)
Back in 2011, Stake Land offered an unusual – and effective – take on the worn-out vampire genre. Five years later, the franchise returns with the appropriately named Stake Land II.
In the first film, teenager Martin (Connor Paolo) lost his family to vampires. With the help of a mysterious stranger named “Mister” (Nick Damici), he sought refuge in a safe spot called New Eden.
Martin made it to New Eden, but his situation collapses when a revitalized vampire cult lays waste to the location. This leaves Martin on his own again to battle the vampire scourge and to search for Mister to gain his mentor’s assistance to take down bloodsucking leader “Mother” (Kristina Hughes).
As I noted earlier, I liked the first Stake Land, so I looked forward to the sequel. The original managed to create a somber vision of its genre and I hoped the second flick would continue to offer an intriguing world.
In terms of tone, Land II matches up with its predecessor pretty well – heck, it may be even darker than the original. The movie’s opening sets up Martin in a way that emphasizes his loss and misery, and matters don’t really improve from there.
I described the first movie as a Terrence Malick take on the supernatural, but that tone holds less true for Land II. Whereas the original flick tended to be somewhat dreamy and meditational, this one opts for a more standard action vibe.
To a degree, at least, as Land II doesn’t abandon its predecessor’s feel. Compared to Stake Land, it boasts a more dynamic story, but it still remains relatively introspective.
Unfortunately, Land II seems less involving than the original, and its narrative comes across as more contrived. In a way, it reminds me of Alien 3, mainly in its refusal to allow its lead continued happiness. As alluded, Land II’s opening destroys whatever joy Martin came to experience in New Eden, all to leave him alone and despondent ala Ripley at the start of Alien 3.
Unlike Ripley, I don’t have enough emotional investment in Martin to feel too upset about his status here, though I think this move feels a bit contrived. It also doesn’t carry over to the rest of the movie as much as one might expect. Martin alludes to his losses at times, but his backstory doesn’t seem to inform subsequent events to a substantial degree.
That’s due to the aforementioned more conventional “action flick” vibe of Land II. I get the impression it aspires to more of a Mad Max feel than its predecessor, as it comes with a semi-quirky cast of characters Martin encounters on his travels. Land II never becomes quite as wild as the Max universe – especially not compared to the stylized madness of Fury Road - but I still feel like George Miller’s work influenced this tale.
Land II also boasts a stronger Western vibe than its predecessor, another move I greet with ambivalence. This choice gives the movie a fairly conventional feel, as it devolves into a story of revenge for the most part. Land II fails to find a particularly original path as Martin inexorably winds his way toward Mother.
With a narrative such as this, the nature of the journey becomes more important than the destination, and that’s where Land II falls short. Perhaps because it feels semi-conventional, the path Martin takes to get to the final doesn’t turn especially involving. A lot of these events come across as sideshows that don’t add a lot to the overall tale, so we become less involved along the way.
None of these factors make Land II a bad movie, and I suspect I’d like it more if I didn’t compare it with its predecessor – the sequel would feel more creative and original if the first flick hadn’t already brought us such an unusual experience. As it stands, this flick delivers a decent but only sporadically involving experience.
Slightly odd footnote: if you search for Stake Land II in IMDB, you won’t find it, as that site uses what appears to have been the movie’s original title: The Stakelander. It’s unclear when/why the name changed, but the original moniker still appears during the end credits.