When we were kids, quicksand seemed like an actual problem we’d have to contend with as adults and, in a way, it’s kind of disappointing that it isn’t. The quicksand featured in Quicksand, a slick, highly unpredictable and at times excruciatingly tense new Shudder exclusive, isn’t exactly sand. It’s very thick mud and other debris that forms into a big sinkhole, trapping protagonists and soon-to-be divorced couple Josh (Allan Hawco) and Sofia (Carolina Gaitan) in its clutches. After watching them struggle to escape for a good hour of screentime, you’ll likely be wondering why we were all so desperate to encounter quicksand in the first place.
Quicksand kicks off with footage of the mountains of Colombia, where a couple of poachers are hunting giant snakes because it’s more lucrative than just robbing tourists. One of them confidently strides forward into the wilderness while the other points out that this particular area, Las Arenas, is somewhere even locals won’t go because it’s so dangerous. Suffice it to say, one of them quickly perishes, the camera crawling along low to the ground like The Evil Dead to communicate that something is hunting them rather than the other way around.
Josh and Sofia are both in town for business, though she’s been out of the game for a while after giving up work to look after their two children. A Colombian native, Sofia is flinty and easily irritated, especially when her estranged husband expects her to be holding his passport. These micro-aggressions are built up gradually, screenwriter Matt Pitts, who’s penned episodes of Westworld and Fringe, among many others, taking his time establishing the strained dynamic before putting the former couple in danger.
Did You Know? Wicked Horror TV Has Classic and Independent Horror Films Available to Stream for Free!
It’s a wise choice because once Josh and Sofia are trapped, the focus is solely on their relationship. It becomes clear that they hold opposing viewpoints on practically everything, including their current predicament. Aside from bickering over how to pull themselves out of the swamp they’re stuck in, the exes also delve into their ruined marriage and how it all went wrong for them. Throughout Quicksand, various references are made to the fact that Sofia had to make all the sacrifices for the benefit of their children while Josh’s life continued as normal.
As a result, even venturing into the wild with Josh is a crucial part of Sofia’s journey to reclaim a sense of self. Anybody who’s struggled to juggle motherhood with any semblance of real life will find Sofia’s story incredibly relatable. Gaitan’s performance is deliberately unyielding at first, before she gradually reveals the deeper layers of hurt this woman is dealing with. Josh, meanwhile, is presented as equally flawed, ensuring we have enormous sympathy for both characters and consistently root for their survival.
One of the most poignant moments in Quicksand occurs when the former couple reaches out to tentatively hold hands in the marsh. This is a relatively low-stakes horror movie about two people stuck in quicksand with a giant snake (which looks impressively real) and boasts some great amateur surgery that’s bursting with gross injury detail, as the BBFC would put it, but at its core Pitts’ lean story is one of human survival. Even the recent, rather brilliant Fall resorted to over-dramatic revelations to amp up the tension in its final act. Quicksand never goes where you think it’s going.
True, this is definitely the Colombia we heard about through Gloria’s stories on Modern Family, where the swanky hotel is in cahoots with local criminals, but the country isn’t lensed through xenophobia. In fact, the beautiful, fog-covered scenery is gorgeously presented throughout, giving a real sense of place that helps us understand why two smart people would go walkabout there in the first place. These kinds of movies often struggle when it comes to justifying the central predicament, but Pitts and director Andres Beltran keep things relatively simple, cutting back to Josh’s friend Marcos (Sebastian Eslava) whenever the premise threatens to strain credibility.
As for the quicksand itself, the consistency is super thick, and whatever substance the actors were actually suspended in, spare a thought for them during what was assuredly an incredibly tough shoot. When one of them struggles to raise their arms, you feel it. Each moment they’re stuck, waiting for help that probably isn’t coming, you feel it. Every tear that drops, every strangled cry, is communicated on the actors’ faces. Hawco and Gaitan have a natural, albeit prickly, chemistry that lends itself well to the desperate situation they find themselves in while also grounding their characters.
Quicksand works enormously well as a self-contained horror movie in the vein of something like Fall, but it’s also a very clever, and consistently compelling, relationship drama. The characters don’t behave in stupid or obvious ways and moments that feel like scene-setting early on–such as Sofia’s vegetarianism–delightfully prove to be anything but once the story fully develops. Unbearably tense but weirdly life-affirming at the same time, Quicksand is well worth a watch whether you fear encountering such marsh in your adult life or not.
Catch Quicksand streaming exclusively on Shudder from July 14, 2023
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Andres Beltran
Writer(s): Matt Pitts
Stars: Sebastian Eslava, Carolina Gaitan, Allan Hawco, Andrés Castañeda
Release date: July 14, 2023 (Shudder)
Language: English, Spanish
Run Time: 86 minutes