Its hard out there for a zombie movie. To try and make yourself distinct from the rest of the flesh eating hordes you really have to try something different in order to get noticed. Recent times have barfed up The Girl With All The Gifts with its emphasis on children and World War Z with its emphasis on throwing lots of money at the screen and then doing a bog standard final act that could be in any low budget undead flick.
It Stains The Sand Red tries something different for its plot and it works a treat… well to start with anyway.
Molly and Nick are racing across the desert in his Porsche, escaping from the zombie apocalypse. Neither of them seem particularly bothered by the mayhem they’ve left behind, partly because they are drunk and high but mostly because they are selfish. However a quick vomit stop results in Molly alone with no car and being relentlessly chased by a single, besuited zombie. This is the central plot of the film: one woman being mercilessly pursued by a man who wants to kill her (and eat her intestines obviously). No matter where she goes, and she doesn’t really have anywhere to go as she’s in the middle of the Nevada desert, there he is, relentlessly following her.
This is a great set up for a low budget movie. For one thing you only need two actors. Brittany Allen has a really tough job to do here. She has to be both an awful human being and deeply sympathetic (she pulls it off well). She may be self obsessed but she has also found herself in this situation through a series of bad choices with bad men, the zombie following her is just the latest in a long line of them. It is telling that when she runs out of the cocaine she was so desperate to keep hold of in her initial scramble to escape, the real Molly starts to show herself. She is a woman of regret and sorrow and maybe this enforced, hideous, sobering experience is what she needs to get back on track in life. Obviously its a pity that her new life could be in a world where everyone is dead but hey, you can’t chose when you’re going to sort your shit out.
Molly herself is a trashy, taste free stripper with too much make-up, some awful animal print clothes and deeply inappropriate shoes for walking in the desert. There is a beautiful moment when Molly comes across a mirror and sees her face, all the make-up long since washed away. She looks almost shocked at seeing her true self. Its the minimalist plot which means the film can have great, subtle character moments like this.
Juan Riedinger plays the zombie, not very affectionally know as Smalls. Zombies are ten-a-penny nowadays so making them distinct or even scary is a tricky number to pull off. Smalls’s relentless pursuit of Molly makes him a formidable presence and having him stumble around in the bright summer sun rather than shuffling around in the dark makes him more creepy rather than less: despite the fact that here is a man trying to kill a woman in broad daylight there is no one here to stop him.
The other thing that works so well in It Stains The Sand Red‘s favour is the astonishing Valley of Fire desert location. There have been a lot of low budget films shot in deserts but director Colin Minihan and his cinematographer Clayton Moore really take advantage of the Nevada landscape, with grand vistas and heat hazed tarmac. The stark image of Smalls in his sharp black suit against the burning brightness of the sand makes the zombie stand out more in this hellish world not fit for humans.
My main problem as I watched the first part of the film was that I wasn’t sure they could make this premise last for an hour and a half. Even half an hour in it felt a little repetitive with Molly thinking she’d escaped Smalls only for him to lurch out from behind some rock again and again. However the dynamic between the two characters does take a turn, I’m just not sure its for the better.
Look, I find it a bit odd for people to say I don’t like the way a story went it should have done this instead. Well if that’s the story you wanted to see then you should have written it yourself. So its not for me to tell Minihan and co what there story should be about. However it seems weird that (OKAY SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) firstly Molly and Smalls should start to get along, mainly because he is a zombie who’s soul purpose in life, sorry death, is to eat people and Molly should be just meat to him. Maybe its like Bub in Day of the Dead who grows as a zombie and doesn’t want to eat his master. I can maybe see a bit how Molly would be more grateful to him (he saves her life, albeit only because the person attacking her was nearer and so easier to eat) as she probably likes any man who shows some kind of kindness to her. But their relationship does seem to me to stretch probability somewhat. However I could go along with this because at least it did do something different and stretch Molly’s character in interesting ways. What I couldn’t understand was how the final act abandons the entire set up altogether and becomes a basic standard zombie movie like hundreds of others. I realise that you have to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, however the end of this story seemed to be from a completely different movie.
Okay so if you did skip the rest of that last paragraph I basically said it starts of interesting, well made and original and by the end its just well made. Still if you aren’t sick to death of zombies by now (and I have to say I am more and more struggling to care about them anymore) then its better than most, certainly better than World War Z with its generic, bog standard final act… oh, hang on….