'Stake Land' is essentially a Western road movie with vampires. After the vampire apocalypse, small pockets of humanity remain but they're few and far between. Things are further complicated by the Brotherhood, a violent, Aryan-style religious group controlling the major roadways and terrorizing non-believers using vampires as weapons. Nick Damici stars as Mister, the gruff loner on his way to New Eden, the Zion-esque human community. Mister comes across the young Martin, played by Connor Paolo, and takes him under his wing. The unlikely duo take to the open road, killing vampires and running afoul of the Brotherhood while Mister mentors Martin in the finer points of survival. But their scrapes with the Brotherhood make them marked men and vampires may be the least of their problems on the road to New Eden.
'Stake Land' is the second film directed by Jim Mickle and co-written by lead actor Nick Damici who made their mark with the 2006 film 'Mulberry Street,' one of the best entries in that year's After Dark Horrorfest. Sadly, 'Stake Land' falters a bit, partially due to a meandering plot that doesn't seem too sure where it wants to end up. Damici and Paolo play off each other pretty well, and Danielle Harris and Kelly McGillis put in solid work in supporting roles, but the slow pacing and lack of a true climax make it a tough sell. In the end, 'Stake Land' is a dry, bleak film with a few good points that aren't quite enough to save it.
'We Are What We Are,' directed by Jorge Michel Grau (Mexico)
The film opens on a dirty, bedraggled man stumbling down the sidewalk. He falls, coughing up a thick, black ooze, as busy men and women pass him on the street with nary a second glance. He finally falls over clearly dead, unable to make it to his destination. We then see the man's family, trying to figure out how to accomplish the day's tasks without the patriarch. With the family leader gone, long suppressed tensions flare as emotions run hot in the ensuing power struggle, threatening to burst the family at the seams. But it quickly becomes clear that this isn't your ordinary family, and their needs are dark and sinister.
'We Are What We Are' is the debut feature from writer/director Jorge Michel Grau. Its study of family dynamics turned on its head certainly makes for an interesting story. The acting and cinematography are both top-notch, but it's a quiet, subtle story for the most part. It's a great concept and well executed, but the pace is a little too slow making it hard to stay interested.
'Julia's Eyes,' directed by Guillem Morales (Spain)
Julia and her twin sister Sara share more than looks. They both have a degenerative disease threatening their eyesight. When Sara dies unexpectedly, Julia and her husband drive out to take care of the final arrangements. But when Julia arrives to discover the cops declaring Sara's death an open-and-shut case of suicide, she knows something is wrong. Despite their recent estrangement, Julia is sure that Sara wouldn't kill herself. In addition to her gut reaction, the facts just don't add up in her mind. While the cops and even her husband don't believe her, it quickly becomes clear that she's on the right track when she discovers a mysterious man is following her every move. Julia finds herself in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse as the film hurtles towards a terrifying climax.
'Julia's Eyes' is a tense, atmospheric horror film that plays out like a modern day giallo. There's plenty of talent on both sides of the camera with genre maestro Guillermo del Toro taking on producing duties and the amazing Belen Rueda, who fans will remember from the fantastic 2007 film 'The Orphanage,' starring in the title role. The film utilizes POV shots that put us in Julia's shoes, showing the audience her slowly darkening view of the world and making her fears our fears. With nods to films like 'The Double Life of Veronique' and the Audrey Hepburn classic 'Wait Until Dark,' 'Julia's Eyes' is a fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns that is well worth seeking out.
'Rammbock,' directed by Marvin Kren (Germany)
While it seems like the focus has certainly been on vampire films, zombie films have been on the upswing as well. Films like 'The Horde' from France, Norway's 'Dead Snow,' and even America's 'Zombieland' have proven that horror fans the world over have the undead on their collective Borg-like brain. Then along comes Germany to throw their own entry into the fray. Germany, a country not exactly known for any genre films, let alone zombie films, has come out of left field with the exciting film 'Rammbock.' Clocking in at a startlingly brief 60 minutes, 'Rammbock' focuses on a small group of people trapped in an apartment complex, forced to work together to survive. While the zombie-like creatures in 'Rammbock' are more similar to the Rage virus infected in '28 Days Later' than the resurrected dead on which George A. Romero has built a career, the tropes of both types of films are incredibly similar and a discussion of their differences is frankly mostly academic in nature. Regardless of how you categorize it, 'Rammbock' is a well-crafted, personal story that's fun to watch.