09th Mar2017

Glasgow Frightfest ’17: ‘It Stains the Sands Red’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Brittany Allen, Juan Riedinger, Merwin Mondesir, Kristopher Higgins, Andrew Supanz, Michael Filipowich, Nico David, Dylan Playfair | Written by Stuart Ortiz | Directed by Colin Minihan

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It Stains the Sands Red follows Las Vegas wild child Molly who finds herself stranded in the desert with a ravenously relentless zombie hot on her high heels, after a horrendous flesh-eating apocalypse ravages Vegas. Forever trying to give it the ingenious slip, the lone stalker has no need of rest and soon it becomes her only physical contact in a world gone mad…

The zombie genre has took a bit of a beating over the years. Too many films and not enough good ideas it seems, and many horror fans are suffering from zombie movie burn-out – especially when it seems like we’re getting a new zombie movie every moth these days! However, there have been some interesting new takes on the much-maligned genre in the past year – in particular Korean horror hit Train to Busan; and now It Stains the Sands Red, from the writing/directing team The Vicious Brothers, aka director Colin Minihan and writer Stuart Ortiz (Extraterrestrial).

Of course, It Stains the Sands Red is not the first example of Minihan and Ortiz stepping into a declining genre, using their inate skills and love of horror to redefine and reinvigorate it. Last time it was the found footage genre and their film Grave Encounters, the idea of mixing reality TV’s penchant for ghost-hunting shows crossed with a found-footage conceit hit all the right notes for film fans, even if critic response was mixed. So much so that a sequel was in order, a rare feat for any found-footage movie not called Paranormal Activity.

In the case of It Stains the Sands Red, Minihan and Ortiz manages to craft a tight, character-driven story that harkens back to Sherman Howard’s role as Bub in Day of the Dead and even the titular Bud the Chud - in so much that they humanise the zombie menace. Here the idea of humanising the undead is combined with a twisted case of Stockholm Syndrome – all set in the dusty, unforgiving, backdrop of the desert. A desert which – ultimately – is more of a villain than the zombie tailing Molly! Speaking of Molly, actress Brittany Allen gives her all in a performance that demands much of its lead. From carrying the film during the quiet moments, to bringing the pathos AND the laughs, Allen lays herself bare in her quest to bring Molly to life and as such the role is a defining, career-making, moment. But it’s not just Allen whose performance begs for the audiences attention, Juan Riedinger – hidden under a ton of make-up effects – somehow manages to imbue his walking dead with more life than you’ve ever expect from the undead, capturing the ridiculousness of being dead/alive perfectly. A ridiculousness that is only echoed by the films black humour which, at times, evokes side-splitting laughter!

If I had any qualms with It Stains the Sands Red it’s the multiple endings. Whilst the majority of the film is tightly paced, it seems Ortiz and Minihan couldn’t cleanly wrap up their story, instead subjecting us to not one, but THREE endings. Endings which add nothing to the story and don’t even add to the character progression of our protagonist Molly. The film should, and could, have ended once Molly arrived at her destination and made the decision to return to Vegas to save the child she abandoned – the epic sweeping shots of Molly driving along the deserts roads would have been just as impactful, we know she’s found the strength she requires to do what she needs to do. But no, instead we’re spoon fed the resulting return, and even that ending is not enough! Ultimately ’tis a minor quibble for such a compelling movie.

A taught, tense (and funny) reinvigoration of the zombie genre, It Stains the Sands Red honestlydeserves to be held in as high a regard as Romero’s original zombie trilogy.

**** 4/5

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