It Stains the Sands Red
In the throes of a zombie apocalypse, a troubled woman from Las Vegas with a dark past finds herself stranded in the desert with a lone and ravenous zombie on her tail.
I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. Another zombie movie? Can’t they just leave my beloved and most favorite sub-genre alone?
But wait – don’t tune out just yet – for I have good news, undead lovers!
Sure, zombies have been done to death (ahem), but there’s still some life (ahem) in this long-running (or shambling) horror sub-genre.
And It Stains the Sands Red is a shining example that there’s something new to be culled from the genre created by George A. Romero almost 50 years ago. Writer/director Colin Minihan (Extraterrestrial – see my review here) is at the helm of this often-times funny, many times endearing and most of the time original new zombie flick which is definitely worth a look.
Stripper and deadbeat mom Molly (Extraterrestrial’s Brittany Allen) has escaped Las Vegas with her douche-bag boyfriend Nick (Merwin Mondesir) after a zombie outbreak has ravaged Sin City. When they get stuck in the middle of the desert – on the way to an airfield and potential safety/escape – they garner the interests of a lone zombie (Juan Riedinger) and eventually Molly will take off on foot alone through the dangerous desert – desperately hoping to find that airfield. But the zombie (eventually christened “Smalls”) is intent on eating her flesh, and so he follows her every step of the way.
The heart and soul of this film comes from the delicious and heartbreaking performance of Brittany Allen. As the sun beats down and dehydration takes over, Molly has numerous flashbacks about her life back in Las Vegas and those she left behind. So we get piece-meal looks into her history. And you’ll quickly see that Molly’s a very broken woman. What most impressed me about Allen was her ability to be hysterically funny (when she’s cursing out Smalls as he continues to pursue her – the scene where she names him is a comic highlight), terrified by the creature who just won’t let up and then deeply emotional – especially at night when things are quiet and Smalls is just silently watching her. Her discussion of “playing phones” will rip your heart out. I honestly wasn’t sure if/how I would come to root for Molly. When we first see her, she’s riding in a douchey car with a douchey guy and wearing skin-tight leopard pants and streetwalker shoes. But pretty quickly, you’ll sympathize with Molly and fall in love with both her and the actress portraying her.
I know it may sound ridiculous to say, when discussing a zombie movie for goodness sake – but the biggest reason I can recommend It Stains the Sands Red – is Allen’s top-notch work here. She’s given ample great dialogue and ample character history to really shine. Of course, she’s clearly a great actor. Put those together and despite the presence of zombies with the munchies, she pulls out ahead of every other piece in this film and takes center stage. Her performance is worthy of both praise and vast recognition.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the co-dependent relationship which will come to life between Molly and Smalls – is truly miraculous. There is sympathy for this walking corpse – via both the audience and Molly and I’ve not seen the likes of that before (perhaps Romero’s Bub to a certain extent).
I was totally impressed with the way the film looked. While always in the Nevada desert – the filmmakers chose to make use of the many different types of landscapes. They could have taken the easy way out and shot several different days in the film – by simply turning their camera and shooting the next sequence in a different direction. Instead, these varied vistas helped to cement Molly’s continuous movement and long journey. And everything was beautifully shot – with one evening’s sunset and Molly puffing on a cig – being my personal favorite shot. It’s just gorgeous.
There are a few good zombie scares of course and the makeup is good overall – although I liked most of the secondary zombie makeup better than that of Smalls. Plenty of zombie gory-munching, so there’ll be no issue there.
Visual effects – notably a violent desert sandstorm are nicely achieved – all very seamless.
And it pains me to say this, but here come my problems with the film…
I would probably offer this film a slightly higher score, if it were not for the tacked-on endings – yes, that’s plural.
There was a high point of emotion toward the film’s end, and had it ended with that and a quick car getaway – I would have been pleased as punch. And while the additional two endings were shot well (including some of the best zombie gore effects in the film) they were wholly unnecessary. Not enough to the ruin the goodness of the film – but these were still rather large missteps. I see how we get some additional closure for Molly – but it felt like the film should have ended two sequences before. And besides, that aforementioned closure would still be very much implied. Molly still makes a bold decision regardless – the issue was that we didn’t need to see it. Knowing she was taking this action was enough.
There’s also a bit of a problem when a group of military men show up in the story. It sort of defied reality with their action/inaction when they come across Molly and Smalls. It’s minor, but worthy of calling out. I didn’t totally buy it.
And while a particular sequence midway through was there to provide an ideal example of Molly and Smalls special connection – I still found it not-so-tasteful and sort of a cop-out. It’s a rape scene and I wished there had been a different way to get the same outcome. It felt cheap and was definitely a low-point in the film.
Finally, toward the end of the piece, there’s a lovely homage to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead – and it warmed my heart. I think it will yours too – if it’s still beating. We are talking about the living dead, here.
With a tremendously watchable and heartfelt lead performance, a wholly unique and unexpected central relationship and a damn good sense of humor (the tire/raft reveal) – It Stains the Sands Red is original and endearing. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of problems – most of which could have been very easily fixed.
The film is continuing its showings on the festival circuit. Stay tuned for information on a wider release!