Stake Land Composed by Jeff Grace
Screamworks Records (2011)
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“GRACE’S score is an
excellent supplement to Martin and Mister’s battle against the
undead, crafting an overarching sense of despair that becomes
multiplied when contrasted with the fleeting moments of hope.”
I'm Gonna Get You, Bloodsucka!
Review by Richard Buxton
As Vampires continue their oft-derided assault on what was once an
industry plagued by perpetual zombie infestation, it’s always gratifying
when one of the countless attempts to cash-in on the resurgence of
bloodsuckers actually turns out to be a worthwhile viewing experience.
STAKE LAND is an example of these rarities. Helmed by promising director
JIM MICKLE, STAKE LAND could be described as an undead take on the novel
and 2009 film THE ROAD. Regardless of where writers MICKLE and DAMICI
found their inspiration, STAKE LAND provides an often thrilling ride and
an insight into the early years of a future big-name director.
Having worked under veteran composer HOWARD SHORE in the LORD OF THE RINGS
films and several horror films, JEFF GRACE was chosen to tackle STAKE LAND and
the its desolate landscape. STAKE LAND is one of those scores that, depending on
how one hears it first, opinions will vary vastly. Heard within
the confines of the film, GRACE’S score is an excellent supplement to
Martin and Mister’s battle against the undead, crafting an overarching
sense of despair that becomes multiplied when contrasted with the fleeting
moments of hope. As a pure listening experience without previous viewing
of the film, STAKE LAND suffers somewhat from never quite lifting off,
despite often threatening to do so. The experience of hearing the music
with the film is clearly pivotal here and will dictate how this score is
received by most who grant themselves a listen.
GRACE storms out of the blocks with the opening theme “Main Title” (1), a
track consisting of the aforementioned battle between hope and despair.
For those who have listened to CHRISTOPHER GORDON’S score for DAYBREAKERS,
certain similarities will spring to mind instantly. The aching strings,
heard here, formed of the juxtaposing forces of hope and anguish, can be
heard in stunning but all-too short moments of brilliance in DAYBREAKERS,
as is the case here. The momentum built up in “Main Title” (1) brings with
it great release as the brass injects the anticipated bravado. After such
a promising start, it comes as a great disappointment that STAKE LAND
never quite reaches these heights again, not for lack of trying however.
Echoes of the main theme heard in the opening track can be heard across
the score, never more prominently than in the gripping “Sister Agatha”
(5), as the true gravity of the situation the characters face becomes
apparent. The pulsating strings and brass work well in getting the blood
pumping without resorting to typical horror clichés of chaotic dissonant
strings. Out of this arises one of the greatest strengths of GRACE’S
Take any score from the vast array of vampire horrors in recent years and
chances are it would support STAKE LAND with a generic but nonetheless
sufficient score in terms of horror film scoring. Yet, despite this, JEFF
GRACE has clearly seen greater potential within STAKE LAND and the
characters of the story, and has thus produced a score of much greater
emotional depth than what may have been anticipated. Of the minor themes,
GRACE’S theme for the hope of humanity stands out as one of the strongest.
Heard in the latter moments of “Lockdown Town” (2) and “A World With No
Vamps” (21), the oft-lonesome string solo does a fine job in portraying
the struggle humanity faces, and the hope they hold for a greater future
ahead. The other standout theme, heard in all its glory in “Sister Is
Gone” (15), presents another example of how GRACE has been successful in
fleshing out the humanity at the heart of STAKE LAND. Whilst the film is
first and foremost a thrilling adventure, there has clearly been more
thought in the evolution of the characters, each with a purpose in the
development of the protagonist. This is again at the forefront in “Goodbye
Belle” (20), another heart-rending swell of strings, lamenting the
onscreen events. GRACE’S constant referrals to the fact that there are
people amongst all the carnage adds an extra layer to a score that could
otherwise be a formulaic score of minimal satisfaction.
GRACE doesn’t forget that at its heart, STAKE LAND is a battle of a
struggling good VS a seemingly unstoppable evil. The alternative
antagonists, The Brotherhood, are GRACE’S excuse to venture into a more
typical style for horror, flavoring the religious tormentors with an
ominous droning, as heard in “The Brotherhood” (6), with the leader of The
Brotherhood, Jebediah receiving a slight development into almost tragic
strings in “Jebediah Done In” (11), perhaps alluding to the man he may
once have been. As the film nears climax, GRACE’S score is finally
overcome by the temptation and grows into something more reminiscent of
generic horror-fare. “Showdown” (19) rises into the ever-faithful
dissonant string crescendo fills the quota for the horror formula
sufficiently. Thankfully, GRACE’S score is largely of a more innovative
The final moments of the score and film are graced by the somewhat
deceptively optimistic “New Eden” (24). The piece accompanies an ending
full of hope, but lined with the omnipotent atmosphere of apprehension as
the protagonist ventures towards an uncertain future.
With the occasional flashes of brilliance, GRACE has crafted a score that
reaches beyond the genre it inhabits. The music heard here is of a much
greater depth than one might expect, complimenting the characters well.
Outside the film the score suffers in that the highlights of the score are
far too infrequent. These highlights do suggest that we will be hearing of
JEFF GRACE a lot more in the future however.