At time of writing I have not yet seen the original, which is strange for me because I have been aware of it since before the remake was made, and because I tend to always watch the original first. Due to reasons, the remake landing on my plate first so I decided to give it a go, especially when I saw that Jim Mickle was at the helm. For those who don’t know, Mickle directed Stake Land – my vote for the best vampire movie of the decade so far. It’s best if you go into this not knowing much about the story (as with all my reviews there are possible spoilers below) but if you are expecting some shocking gore fest, you should probably look away now.
Mickle uses another grimy pallet similar to the bland colours he has used previously, draining the world of all life aside from some starched, cardboard mockery. The world is always grey, always sodden, and there are few rays of light or smiles or moments which will make you feel any sort of hope for anyone involved. Naturally this all creates a bleary tone and an out of time sense as you feel like you are witnessing something that happened on a frontier a hundred years earlier than it is. Our central family dresses in a drab, timeless fashion for the most part, living on the outskirts of what could be an old Western mining facility rather than the small town that it actually is. Members of some apparent quaint religion, the two teenage sisters, young son, and grizzled father are struck by tragedy in the opening moments when the matriarch appears to have some sort of aneurysm and collapses, drowning in a puddle. As the film progresses we watch as the family struggles with this loss, try to come to terms with fulfilling the unspoken religious and cultural rites they have performed for generations, all while the townsfolk try to survive the seemingly apocalyptic storm which has been drenching them for weeks. We meet a local doctor, sheriff, deputy, and a neighbour, and slowly we learn about the town’s penchant for losing its inhabitants or people who try to pass through. It soon becomes clear that the family is involved in this somehow, and that the townspeople are closing in on the truth.
It’s difficult to talk about things like performances, plot, music, for a film which is so ruled by its bleak and grim visuals and tone. However, the actors are all uniformly strong, feeling like real people torn by their pasts and presents. Michael Parks is as good as ever in the role of the suspicious, mourning doctor, and Bill Sage is suitably domineering as the father. It’s the two daughters who stand out, Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers as the reluctant girls forced into following their traditions, not fully understanding why they must do the things they do, but knowing enough to see how terrible it is. Kelly McGillis returns from Stake Land and continues her interesting resurgence. It is a cold tale from Mickle, and another that shows he is a force to be reckoned with, being possibly the most lyrical director in horror today. Those expecting a tale of blood and guts will be disappointed – this is a slow burning drama based on atmosphere, based on the looks between characters rather than decapitations and the like, and while there are a few scenes of blood and guts these only work thanks to the chilling tone which has been set up. One to watch on a cold dark night after a good meal.
Have you seen this and/or the original? How do they compare? Do you prefer your horror to burn slowly or shock frequently? Let us know in the comments!