Almost fifty years after the release of Romero’s seminal Night Of The Living Dead, the world is still hopelessly devoted to zombies. The popularity of the snooze-inducing The Walking Dead, and its somehow even more dull sister show Fear The Walking Dead, baffles me but every once in a while a new movie comes out that reinvigorates the sub-genre–The Battery, Night Of The Living Deb and Stalled are just three recent examples.
To their number we can rather enthusiastically add It Stains The Sands Red, the sophomore feature from Extraterrestrial‘s Colin Minahan. The premise hinges, for the most part, on Brittany Allen’s party girl, Molly, and the zombie who’s stalking her through the Las Vegas desert (played by Juan Riedinger), whom she affectionately dubs Smalls. If that sounds terribly boring, well, maybe stick to The Walking Dead.
It Stains The Sands Red announces itself right off the bat as something different from the usual un-dead fare, with an opening sequence featuring a couple of characters one would reasonably assume are expendable. One of them, naturally, is Molly, who strides off into the desert (in huge, crippling platform boots) after her boyfriend is disemboweled, in brilliantly gory glory, by the zombie she’ll spend the rest of the movie strolling away from.
Much of the flick’s clever humour comes from watching Molly very slowly making her way through across the sand while the zombie, sticking to Romero’s golden rule, ambles after her, never quite able to catch up (as she memorably taunts him at one point). There’s a terrific sight gag which sees Molly safely atop a tiny plateau while Smalls desperately tries to grab at her from just a few feet below.
The gore isn’t constant, however. Rather it’s well-placed, the top-notch SFX (by Plotdigger EFX) given space to really show off. The removal of guts is, like a splash of blood on the camera lens, always welcome while the zombies themselves (when there are more of them) look flaky, diseased and disgusting. It’s never quite clear what’s got to them, given the virus is in full effect when the movie begins, much to its immense credit.
This allows time for more action, since not a minute is wasted on pointless back-and-forth about the state of the Earth. One throwaway line about “how they sound in the news” is complemented by a glimpse at a newspaper headline later on. But that’s it, that’s all the explanation needed. Allen, for her part, is pretty messed up by the end too, lobster-red, a layer of dust on her face and even her nose ring sporting a hint of crust.
The actor has an exec producer credit, as well as being the star and ostensibly sole (human) on-screen presence for most of the movie. She’s terrific in a difficult role, tasked with communicating with a mute co-star while selling us on Molly’s story of redemption throughout (there are flashbacks to a previous life that suggest maybe she isn’t the best person). Smalls, in a way, pushes her to keep going as she projects everything onto him, eventually using him to find inner strength.
He’s a bit like a dog in a lot of ways, particularly in how he eats, and there are many jokes made at his expense. But when Molly snarks that “you’re every guy I’ve ever met at a bar” it’s clear there’s a more human connection here than perhaps even she realises. It Stains The Sands Red is really, at its core, a story of one woman’s redemption…by way of zombies.
Allen is certainly one to watch, and this is a wonderful showcase for her. She’s been busy quietly making a name for herself in the likes of InControl (which also played Frightfest 2017) and the upcoming Jigsaw. Although the term Scream Queen has become a bit of a no-go, it’s easy to imagine her as a Danielle Harris in training. Allen commands attention and gives life to a character that, in someone else’s hands, might have been one-note.
As zombie movies go, It Stains The Sands Red is among the best modern examples. With a gnarly score by Blitz/Berlin, a no-name cast of totally up-for-it young actors (with particular credit to the fearless Allen), a healthy dollop of gore and story, it’s unpredictable, funny and strangely moving. It doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go which, particularly for those of us who’ve watched a million of these things, is reason enough to check it out. Come for the zombies, stay for the emotional payoff.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Colin Minihan
Writer(s): Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz
Stars: Brittany Allen, Juan Riedinger, Merwin Mondesir, Kristopher Higgins
Release: 28 July 2017 (online), 26 September 2017 (DVD)
Studio/ Production Co: Digital Interference Productions
Length: 92 minutes