Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Colin Minihan
Writer: Stuart Ortiz, Colin Minihan
Producer: Brandon Christensen, Bic Tran, Stuart Ortiz, Colin Minihan
Stars: Brittany Allen, Juan Riedinger, Merwin Mondesir, Kris Higgins, Michael Filipowich, Nico David, Andrew Supanz
A stripper stranded alone in the Nevada desert must make her way to safety with a lone zombie persistently in pursuit.
Oftentimes, filmmakers setting up shop in the overflowing zombie subgenre plant their premises in vast post-apocalyptic wastelands populated by plentiful packs of fierce creatures and fiercer humans. Epic action drives high stakes drama in these sorts of stories. Many of them are so conceptually similar in setup that there is little wonder why horror fans sigh at the mere mention of “another” zombie movie.
Not since “The Battery” (review here) has an economical indie figured out that scaling all the way back to an intimate focus is a much smarter way to stand out. While everyone else breaks their backs going bigger, “It Stains the Sands Red” deconstructs the human versus undead scenario into a one on one duel of determination.
Molly is in the midst of putting Murphy’s Law through its paces. After the living dead overran Las Vegas, she and her boyfriend took to a desert highway en route to an airstrip, with dreams of a Mexican island escape reflecting in their Ray-Bans.
Currently, her boyfriend’s disemboweled body is stuck by the side of the road. His car is too. The gun is out of ammo, the cellphone has no service, and water is in short supply. Molly’s only option, if she still wants to live, is to hoof it on foot 36 miles through scorching hot sand. Clad in leopard print pants and sparkling shoes, the only thing keeping this self-centered stripper motivated to move is the cocaine up her nose… and the shambling corpse following closely behind.
Dogging Molly’s every step is a zombie she can’t shake. Whether she walks, runs, hides, or gets lost in a sandstorm, Molly’s inconveniently-timed monthly visitor means the monster always has her scent in its sights.
She isn’t going to lose him anytime soon. So when dehydration and a few more unanticipated traumas rattle Molly’s mind, she reluctantly accepts the walker as a companion instead of as a creature, like a persistent puppy following a kid home from school. The places her new pet takes her physically and psychologically puts Molly through another emotional ringer, causing her to question the difficult choices that brought her to where she is now.
Masses of zombies are dispatched with such flippancy on a show like “The Walking Dead” that one might wonder, how can a solitary zombie present such a nagging threat? “It Stains the Sands Red” knows there are understandable questions of the “just kick over the killer doll” variety and squares up to answer them straight away.
Why not shoot the zombie? That is the first dispatch method attempted and it doesn’t produce the predicted result. Why not beat it to death? A throwaway line regarding a stuck car tire reiterates that this is the desert, where tree limbs and heavy pipes aren’t exactly lying around. Why not just run far enough away? Well, how fast do you think you could trot in platform heels after several days in the Nevada sun without food?
The biggest question of all however, is can the movie’s simple story supply 90 minutes of entertainment? The answer is yes, with a caveat regarding the climax.
“It Stains the Sands Red” comes to a natural conclusion and then confusingly continues in order to add more action to its ending. This “Return of the King” resolution isn’t unwelcome, the scenes themselves are visually exciting, but it is unnecessary. Ten minutes before end credits roll, Molly’s journey hits its logically last emotional beat. We don’t need to experience the outcome of her final decision as the act of making it means more to the character than seeing it through.
But “It Stains the Sands Red” has a habit of handling its throughlines with butterfingers. The movie isn’t exactly a horror/comedy even though it is irreverently humorous by design. Because Molly’s period is what keeps the zombie on her tail, one sight gag involves Molly luring the ghoul away with a bloody tampon that he chews up and spits out. This is one case where personal taste determines a grimace or a grin, although it is also exemplary of how the film has trouble keeping its balance.
Mood wobbles as things go from mildly amusing to darkly dire. A particular mid-movie moment takes a bigger dare than expected. Whether intentional or not, enough air is taken out by this assault that smiles are harder to come by in the aftermath. “It Stains the Sands Red” journeys into some unpleasant territory and there is a debate to be had on how appropriately these areas serve the overall feel of the film.
Yet one area, probably the most important area, where the tonal shift works well is in the way Brittany Allen transforms Molly from flighty floozy played for laughs to resilient heroine on a road of redemption. Unexpectedly, given the direction of the film’s first steps, Allen gradually fills a vacuously airheaded personality with surprising pathos. A sincere character study works its way to the fore as “It Stains the Sands Red” refreshingly remembers that zombie movies are at their best when they tell survival stories about persevering people such as Molly.
Warts aren’t worrisome enough to require a lance to the boils. Missteps of mood and an overworked finale trip up the tempo, yet a steadfast refusal to chase traditional expectations keeps the film fresh. Desert colors are strikingly vibrant instead of boringly bleached. Sparing CGI seamlessly blends into scenery when special effects are needed. By using its unique frame to tell a tight story of a single survivor, “It Stains the Sands Red” emerges as a minimalist movie unlike anything else in a genre desperately in need of new blood.
Review Score: 70