It Stains the Sands Red

| July 28, 2017

Any diehard horror fan would be pardoned for suffering from prolonged zombie fatigue in today’s pop culture landscape. The Walking Dead is a hit long-running TV series, Night of the Living Dead has been used in every film that needs characters watching a public domain movie in it for decades, and independent filmmakers keep cranking out cheap zombie movies at a distressing pace. It’s damned tough to come up with a new wrinkle on the “zombie movie” formula–hard enough that most filmmakers don’t even try. Certainly there’s something to be said for a solid take on familiar material, but better is the occasional film that offers an unexpected tweak on the kind of movie horror fans have seen too many times. It Stains the Sands Red, the solo feature directing debut of Colin Minihan, splits the difference and provides an intriguing take on the zombie movie.

The zombie apocalypse is in full swing in Las Vegas. Molly (Brittany Allen) is getting the hell out of town with her boyfriend Nick (Merwin Mondesir), pedal to the floor all the way to a small airfield where some of Nick’s friends are waiting to take off to Mexico and wait out the end of the world lounging on a beach getting drunk. But when Nick has to pull off the road in a hurry, his car gets stuck in the sand, and before he and Molly can get it back on the road a single zombie (Juan Riedinger) shambles up from seemingly out of nowhere. As would be expected, the encounter does not end well and Molly soon finds herself striking out on foot through the desert toward the airfield. To further complicate her journey across the desert, the wounded zombie is staggering after her, and unlike Molly it never has to stop to rest.

The bulk of the running time in It Stains the Sand Red consists of Molly trekking across the desert with “Smalls” (the name she eventually gives her zombie companion) and using it as a sounding board to work through some of the issues that led her to the circumstances in which she lived when things in Vegas went south. She is presented with a series of problems unique to her situation: How can she find time to rest or stop to go to the bathroom when Smalls never stops coming at her? The fact that Smalls is more of a traditional Romero-style zombie works in her favor. He’s not terribly bright, he’s very single-minded, and he was already a little slow before taking a bullet wound in one leg. And it probably helps that he can’t understand the heaps of insults Molly piles on him on their long walk. Or can he?

Allan is one of only a handful of speaking parts in the entire film, and she’s on-screen almost the entire time. Thankfully, she makes Molly a compelling character to spend time with. Director/co-writer Minihan–one of the “Vicious Brothers” who made a splash in the indie horror scene with Grave Encounters–uses the desolate locations and Allan’s great performance to maximum effect. The film falls into an easy rhythm, and it’s something of a disappointment when the story reaches its final act and takes a turn toward much more familiar zombie movie territory. Even then, it has one neat trick left in an ending that in any other circumstance would feel like a setup for a sequel, but here is the natural endpoint of its main character’s arc. There’s a lot to recommend It Stains the Sands Red, and anyone looking for a unique take on the tired “zombie movie” formula should seek it out.

MPI released It Stains the Sands Red on VOD 28 July 2017. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 26 September 2017 from Dark Sky Films.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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