’54 Days’ Independent Australian Film Is Truly Gripping (Review/Trailer)

’54 Days’ Independent Australian Film Is Truly Gripping (Review/Trailer)

54 Days, an independent Australian film from Tim R. Lea is a truly gripping bit of work that goes to show just how great cinema is that comes from Oz. It has to be pointed out that of the best horror and science fiction films out of the last 20 years, quite an impressive number have come from “the land down under,” and this award winning festival favorite joins a lot of popular movies that have either become cult favorites or great additions to a film genre.

Stake Land (2010): Zombieland With Teeth

This is quite possibly the best post-apocalyptic film I have ever seen. Stake Land was co-written by Nick Damici (Mister in the film) and Jim Mickle (director) and it is brilliant piece of horror Americana.

Jim Mickle’s direction is practically flawless, he leaves no loose threads and at no time did the film meander. This was Mickle’s second feature length film and it is  for that reason alone that he shows so much promise. Nick Damici as another of the “Jobbing Actor” types that until now has never been given a decent enough role to show his talent. This man will leave a huge mark in the business. Connor Paolo (as Martin [and what a lovely touch, naming the lead actor after the ‘vampire’ in George A. Romero‘s cult classic]) Paolo has been working steadily since 2003 and it shows. He did a good job.

I was surprised and pleased to see Kelly McGillis as the Sister. She’s come a long way since Top Gun and she hasn’t lost anything in the acting department. Michael Cerveris played religious leader Jebidia.  He is another actor who has been working steadily in the business for years and it shows. An excellent actor by any standard and one who, if they ever do a biographical film about Yul Brenner, should definitely be cast as Brenner. Danielle Harris played the pregnant Belle. Danielle is known as the new “Scream Queen” and as powerful as her performance was, I did feel it was a shame she didn’t have more to do.

Danielle Harris
Danielle Harris

The  “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:  Young Martin finds himself in a world gone mad and overrun with vampires. After his family is slaughtered by a vampire he is saved by Mister. Mister is a vampire hunter and his reputation is starting to precede him. Mister and Martin are heading for “New Eden” in Canada, the news is that New Eden is vampire free. On their journey north to New Eden, they pick up: A nun, a marine and young pregnant girl. After they pick-up the nun, they briefly lose her, but she is one tough Sister and makes her way back to the pair.

During  their journey, they not only kill every vampire they come across but they also have to fight off the religious zealots who have a tendency to kill, rape and otherwise mistreat other survivors that have the misfortune to cross their path. While all this is going on, Mister is teaching Martin how to become a hunter like himself. The land they are travelling through is bleak and practically deserted. They do come across the odd “town” where survivors have banded together, but these towns are open targets for the vampires and for the zealots.

At one town they come across the pregnant Belle who hitches a ride as she wants her baby born in New Eden. The foursome then head out and they come across a marine who has been left out as a sacrifice to vampires by the zealots.   I will  stop here with the plot synopsis as I don’t want to have any spoilers in the review.

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This film was a great mix of  gore, scares, sadness, humour and pathos. The inclusion of the religious “cult” survivors and their rabid pursuit of God’s work was an excellent counter-balance to the stoic, taciturn hunter Mister. The cinematography was sharp and beautifully dark. The only problem I had with the film was the narration by Paolo. He spoke in a deeper more gravelly tone, to show that he was older than in the film. This worked well except for the music. The soundtrack was intrusive during the narration and I had a bit of a problem actually making out what Martin was saying. This is probably a personal problem as I do suffer from Tinnitus.

The casting for Stake Land was spot on. The people that the protagonists meet and interact with, looked like real people. The biggest ‘name” in the film was Kelly McGillis and she looks nothing like she did in her Top Gun days. Because they cast so well, the film, at times, almost felt like a documentary it added that touch of realism.

The vampires were excellent. Mickle and Damici chose to use the ‘old fashion’ type vampires for their film and it was a welcome change.  No one sparkled or wandered around in the sun. These vampires, for the most part, were mindless, savage drinking machines. They were not witty nor were they overly articulate. They were scary.

If you only watch one post-apocalyptic film this year, try to make it Stake Land.  It’s a film that’s got bite.

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