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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Stake Land II" (2016)

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When his home of New Eden is destroyed by a revitalized Brotherhood and its new Vamp leader, Martin (Connor Paolo) finds himself alone in the badlands of America with only the distant memory of his mentor and legendary vampire hunter, Mister (Nick Damici), to guide him.

This sequel was written by Nick Damici without the input of Jim Mickle, who co-wrote the first film. Mickle was tied up in other projects, but Damici wanted to return to Stake Land whether through film, TV or a web series, and producer Larry Fessenden agreed. Many directors were interviewed looking for a Mickle replacement. Ultimately, Fessenden (through Chadd Harbold) went with "extended family" members, Dan Berk and Bobby Olsen. Though they may not be big names, the successful execution of this film speaks for itself.

The film begins with a minor flashback to catch us up to speed. Without using footage from the original, we get a quick sense of the characters and where we are now. It is quite effective, and simple enough that someone who skipped the first film could watch this one without much difficulty. (Why they would do that, I have no idea.) For the first half of the film, there are plenty of shots showing the desolate wasteland (of Canada!), really driven by the score due to the lack of dialogue. How much this was taken from the script, I do not know, but it plays very well and credit must be given to composer Redding Hunter.

Damici's script is somewhat philosophical. We have the importance of hope to keep on moving forward in the bleakest of times (which could easily be seen as a metaphor). His own character, Mister, has a great role, very sage. He even paraphrases Confucius: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." Our hero is the same as the first film, but a little bit older and wiser, and we also have new characters played by veteran actors Steven Williams and A.C. Peterson. Williams is especially enjoyable, and when you look up the mile-long credits these two guys have, you wonder why they're not bigger names.

Damici's script brings a western sensibility to the post-apocalyptic genre. (Western in the sense of cowboys, that is.) I am not sure how much the original was intended to be seen as a western, but this sequel really captures the feel -- wastelands replacing deserts, and survivors replacing lone gunslingers wandering through treacherous new towns.

The DVD / Blu-ray looks and sounds great. The special features are somewhat lacking. Perhaps I am spoiled, but I have come to expect audio commentary as standard, and no one has offered that here. However, there is a roughly 30-minute "making of" video that covers just about anything that the average person would want to know, so at least we have the next best thing. Fans f the original should not miss the sequel, as there is plenty to like here and certainly a world worth returning to a third time if those involved were so inclined.

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