A surprise late-in-the-game sequel to a runaway cult hit, Stake Land 2, or to use it’s slightly more badass original title, The Stakelander, is about as odd as follow-up properties come.
Whilst the original was in many ways riding on the vampire wave of the late 00’s/early 10’s (and bringing some much appreciated apocalyptic darkness to the proceedings along with it), this much lower-rent, straight-to-DVD affair comes at a time where the vamp craze is all but dead in the water. And it really shows.
That’s not to call Stake Land 2 a mistake at all; it’s an entertaining 80 minutes that happily plays around with, and in many ways expands, the mythos of the original brilliantly. It’s just very, very clear throughout that the main source of horror for the series isn’t quite as relevant as it once was. The vampires themselves – much more 30 Days of Night than Twilight or even Dracula; like a very bloody cross between an Uruk-hai and a particularly toothy zombie – really struggle to ever really hold up as threatening. And whilst directors Berk and Olsen realise this fairly quickly, finding a neat little villainous stand-in to take their place for the majority, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this series has already very much stalled, a mere one sequel in.
The directing duo, who already made a low-key, yet surprisingly thoughtful dent in the horror market with their bare-bones thriller Body a few years back, certainly do everything they can to claw back whatever’s left though. Picking up from a now seasoned genre vet like Jim Mickle can never be easy, particularly when said follow-up very quickly gets shafted into becoming a Syfy TV original, but Berk and Olsen add not only a great deal of emotionally-driven depth to the world of Stake Land, but also a healthy amount of the original’s cleverly cheap visuals too.
Settings might often feel a little too sparse, and the characters themselves a little underrepresented in the wardrobe department, but to think that this effort would’ve most likely been made for even less than its predecessor’s measly $600,000 budget, there’s a real sense of stretching ever dollar here. Whilst Mickle’s original was a road movie through and through, packed with numerous vamps of different designs, Berk and Olsen settle into what’s much more of a siege, and explain away the lack of monstrous variation with a clever little story nod that doubles up in the world-building department too.
That’s not forgetting that simply just seeing Paolo and Damici share the screen once again is a pleasant little bonus in itself. Back on script-duties once more, Damici feels a lot less a part of things as he did before, and the pair’s on-screen father/son bromance is certainly a little rusty, but again the plot-driven developments that made them this way are more than worth the sacrifice. Paolo alone is in a very different place to where he was six years ago, and playing into that – really owning the ominous time-gap – really works in the film’s favour overall. Certain supporting characters don’t quite earn the time they’re given, but the fact that there’s no longer a more devoted focus on the duo does make sense in the grand scheme of things.
It all really comes down to just how much of an effect the original had on you. Existing fans of the series will without doubt find a lot to love here, even if the neat additions and side thoughts don’t ultimately make for a more substantive picture over all. Those not totally won over by Mickle’s first Stake Land though really won’t find much to shout about with this follow-up. It’s far from a by-the-numbers retread, and Berk and Olsen really try to inject as much originality as possible wherever they can, but the ultimate fate of this cheap sequel is that it’s simply a surprise that it even exists.
Stake Land 2 is out in the UK on DVD from Monday.