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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

REVIEW: It Stains the Sands Red

The initial concept of Colin Minihan's It Stains the Sands Red is pretty brilliant: Molly (Brittany Allen) gets stranded in the middle of the desert after she and her boyfriend get attacked by a single zombie as they try to make it to an airfield to escape the zombie apocalypse. In addition to the realities of surviving a 40-mile walk through the desert, she is doggedly pursued by the zombie, who slowly but surely keeps up with her. It's a unique, smart twist on the genre, adding a heavy dose of It Follows' fear of a relentless, never-stopping enemy into the mix.

When the movie is at its best, it's inventive and genuinely frightening as it explores that central idea. It creates a stronger sense of survival when avoiding dehydration and making it to the airfield before the pilot leaves without her are added to the usual fears of being bitten by the undead. It forces Molly (and the filmmakers) to get creative as she finds ways to keep the zombie at bay temporarily so she can sleep, or even comes up with ways to make him useful during the long trek through the sands. Starting the film with the zombie apocalypse already well underway with characters who understand the rules is also a clever and refreshing twist on the tired tropes of the genre.

The only issue with this is that the movie abandons this concept barely over halfway through; without spoiling the fate of the zombie, lets say he's not so important after Molly arrives at the airfield. The film takes what feels like a left turn there, becoming a film about personal growth and family drama. Thematically, it makes sense: she goes from being totally dependent on men and pursued by a monstrous version of a man because she's on her period to an extremely competent survivalist whose motherhood only makes her stronger. On an intellectual level it works pretty well, but from a visual and narrative level it left me wanting more from the brilliant initial concept.

In addition, there's also some pretty bizarre and seemingly amateur editing mistakes throughout the first two acts. Every movie sets up its own visual and auditory rules, and It Stains the Sands Red breaks its own rules frequently, suddenly utilizing effects and editing techniques that make it feel as if the film turns into a cheesily stylized music video at times with out of place color filters and time-lapsed backgrounds. The opening act feels overly composed, as if they shot it poorly and instead of redoing it, just added an overwhelming amount of color grading and After Effects star fields in the background.

There are two smart movies inside It Stains the Sands Red: one, a clever twist on the tropes and settings of the zombie film, and another, a redemption story of a woman turning her femininity from victimhood into power. Unfortunately, those two stories don't mesh entirely well, and I found myself wishing the film had dug more deeply into either one. It's an admirable effort, and outside of some brief but baffling stylistic choices, it firmly draws a line in the sand for the progression of Minihan's abilities as a director.

It Stains the Sands Red is directed by Colin Minihan and stars Brittany Allen and Juan Riedinger. It opens to a limited theatrical release and VOD platforms on July 28th.
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