Stake Land 2 (2016) Review

rsz_stake1STAKE LAND 2 (Dirs- Dan Berk, Robert Olsen, USA 2016)

Starring- Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Kristina Hughes, Bonnie Dennison

Out NOW on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

Jim Mickle’s STAKE LAND was a surprisingly effective flick back in 2010 as it at least tried to bring back the vampire into a more darker and gritty combination of post apocalyptic western and straight up serious horror. The film carried a bleak almost nihilistic world view in parts backed up with interesting and empathetic characters most notably Nick Damici’s vampire hunter Mister and the young lad he takes under his wing, Martin, played by Connor Paolo as they navigate the ravaged American landscape on their way to find New Eden in Canada, the last hope of a safe refuge.

The film picks up with Martin and the girl he left with at the end of the last film, Peggy (Dennison) now living with a kid of their own. Tragedy rears its ugly head as we learn in flashback that Peggy and Martin’s daughter were slain by a new leader of the religious nutter group, The Brotherhood, who where one of the main human threats from the first film. This new head is called The Mother (Hughes) who has control over the mutant berserker vampires that spread the epidemic in the first place and who The Brotherhood worship as their new god intent on their mission of wiping out the remaining heathens in the world.

rsz_stake2Martin sets out on a quest for vengeance encountering un-trust worthy folk along the way including an elderly couple whose hospitality hides a sinister purpose (seems pretty obvious in the long run) and a band of humans who seem to be trading other unfortunate captive humans and forcing them into fighting. Its this point where Martin meets back up with Mister who has found a feral women he has called Lady (Abramsen) and they soon return back wandering the waste land in search of The Mother, meeting up with two old friends of Mister’s, Bat (Petersen) and Doc Earl (Williams) on a mission that sees them facing persistent struggle and possible doom.

It was surprising to hear that this film originally had its premiere on the SyFy channel in the states, which is more at home to screening first time premieres of films about mutated ghost sharks and the like. The SyFy channel premiere doesn’t really do it justice and despite a few festival screenings this time round unlike its predecessor STAKE LAND 2 goes straight to DVD in the UK. This shouldn’t put anyone off as this is a decent sequel and whilst it doesn’t have the strength of the first one and in some ways less of a budget the film still retains the bleak world view of the original. Naturally in post apocalyptic times we are reminded of the futility of society and its complete breakdown due to collapse in institutions and this sequel keeps up that notion even if I would say borrowing very slightly from THE WALKING DEAD and that series bleak world view, which in turn I felt certainly must have had some of the original STAKE LAND’s inspiration rub off on it in the latter seasons of that show.

rsz_stake3But then post apocalyptic films have always traded on our fears of epidemic, nuclear war and the breakdown of the world and rationale humans turning on other humans an idea which always works well and forever will be present and in current uncertain world climate even more relevant. Paolo and Damici, both excellent in this, reprise their roles as Mister and Martin and its good to see them return since their pairing was one of the first films strengths. A nice connection is played out with the tragic incident at the start that befalls Martin and with one that happened to Mister in the past, who sees Martin change and slowly start to become what he used to be even though he sees a better future and character for the boy. They are backed up with support from Petersen and Williams who lend a pair of bad ass characters also driven numb by the bleakness of the world.

rsz_stake4Directing duo Berk and Olsen handle the film with confidence and pace the story into new territories alongside introducing new past story traits to strengthen the characters even though in some respects it lessens the hidden past mystery of Mister. They also benefit from a great use of the shooting location of Saskatchewan that adds to the vast loneliness of the post apocalyptic landscape and an almost Western-esque feel. Credit should also be given to the make up effects work which manages to be effective adding an ugly look to the vamps as well as making the head vamp, The Mother, look albino in a way and strangely like Tilda Swinton but with long hair and one eye. In the outset this sequel, whilst might not be as sprinkled with the originality of the first film still manages to be an entertaining 81 minutes that delivers some fantastic scenes of mutant vampire action and gore amongst the dramatic human moments.

6.5/10

Friend Request (2016) Review

Friend-Request-Movie-Banner-PosterFriend Request (2016)

Director: Simon Verhoeven

Stars: Alicia Debnam Carey, Liesl Ahlers, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Sean Marquette

Released in UK Cinemas 20th April by Warner Bros

Laura (Alicia Debnam Carey) is a pretty, popular college student who seems to have life made. After drawing the attention of reclusive, artistic oddball Marina (Liesl Ahlers), she receives a social media friend request from her fellow student.

However, the intensity of Marina’s infatuation causes Laura and her friends to grow wary of this clearly disturbed girl, a situation which builds to a violent disagreement, following which Marina commits suicide – filming the whole thing on her webcam as she does so.

UnfriendConsumed by guilt, Laura struggles to make sense of events, especially when she continues to receive updates from the dead girl’s account. However, Marina’s is not the last death close to Laura… and as she loses those she holds dearest she finds herself in a race against time to discover the horrifying truth.

With Friend Request, director Simon Verhoeven succeeds in creating a visually stunning, competent teen-friendly horror. While it does not hit the heady heights of last year’s surprisingly great Unfriended, it manages to combine a number of seemingly disparate subgenres into one polished horror tale.

The shiny cast are every bit as easy on the eye as Verhoeven’s slick visuals (even if a couple are clearly too old to portray college students), with the impressive Carey a real standout as a sympathetic lead, along with the likeable Sean Marquette in a strong supporting role. His character, Gus, delivers some much needed levity during the film’s darker moments, as do character actors Shashawnee Hall (who horror fans may recognise from Wes Craven’s a Nightmare on Elm Street) and Nicholas Pauling as a pair of comical police detectives.

At the other end of the scale, the very talented Ahlers and Connor Paolo deliver in their edgier parts. Ahlers, channeling The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace, is excellent, not overplaying a role that could easily have devolved into a cartoonish weirdo. She’s at the heart of some of the more subtle unnerving moments and I hope to see more of her in the genre.

UnfriendAs well as the visual side of things (enhanced no end by the skilled cinematography of Jo Heim), Verhoeven shows real flair as a horror storyteller. He crafts some sterling scares (bar a couple of mistimed jump attempts) and manages to do justice to each element of the story (written by Verhoeven along with collaborators Matthew Ballen and Philip Koch).

As well as the more obvious horrors (the black wasp motif, the grisly deaths and deeply disturbing imagery of Marina’s haunting artwork), there are several small details that rattle the nerves. Laura’s growing desperation and helplessness as she struggles to clear her name and protect the people she loves is palpable, while the slow loss of popularity and friends is certainly sure to haunt youngsters watching the film.

However, the focus on Friend Request’s Facebook-substitute already feels dated. Teens have moved on from Mark Zuckerberg’s creation and this feels a lot like an attempt by studio execs to relate to youngsters they’ve since lost touch with. Another bugbear proves the number of rather lascivious times in which the camera seems to focus on Carey’s (admittedly shapely) behind. It feels gratuitous and more than a little bit icky.

What’s more, as accomplished and proficient as Friend Request proves as a film-making exercise, it lacks that extra spark and moment of true brilliance to propel it into must-see territory, especially during its rather hackneyed conclusion.

Scene 143A; INT Laura's Apartment - Living Room; Olivia (Brit Morgan) crawls, Marina (Liesel Ahlers) follows.

It’s not that it’s bad, per se, so much as it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself as truly exceptional. However, Friend Request is a fun and well-made film that looks to serve as a very strong introduction to some exciting young talents. It’s well worth your time and I look forward to seeing much more from the individuals involved.

7/10

SPECIAL THANKS TO THE KIND FOLKS AT FILM4FRIGHTFEST WHO ARRANGED THIS SCREENING AT WEST 12 VUE, SHEPHERD’S BUSH, THE NEW HOME FOR THE 2016 HORROR FILM FESTIVAL.