It Stains the Sands Red

Year: 2017
Production Co: Digital Interference Partners
Director: Colin Minihan
Writer: Colin Minihan/Stuart Ortiz
Cast: Brittany Allen, Juan Riedinger

One of the most effective aspects of modern zombine mythology is the relentlessness the undead employ to eat you. Those of 28 Days Later or Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake that run at a full sprint, enraged by their hunger, are twice as scary, but there's something about the shuffling, shambling ghouls of the George Romero style that's even scarier in its own way.

Even though you can outrun them, you better find somewhere to hole up that's out of their reach because they never stop coming for you. Sooner or later you have to stop and sleep or go and find food or water – and when you do, they'll be a couple of steps behind you, just waiting for you to slow down enough.

It Stains the Sands Red takes that very iconic idea behind the modern zombie and runs (or rather, walks slowly) with it. Molly (Brittany Allen, propping up almost the entire movie single handedly) is leaving a devastated Las Vegas with her gangbanger boyfriend Nick when they get bogged by the side of the road in Nevada's endless desert.

Molly sees a figure shambling down the road miles off, but bad luck and bad aim with their only gun sees the zombie make dinner out of Nick, giving Molly her only chance to get away.

Her only chance is to reach a small group of the friends Nick was taking her to meet, some guys who have a plane and offer the promise of escape. But to get there Molly had to walk through the searing heat towards where she hopes the airfield is still intact.

And all the while, the zombie who left her stranded and who she soon christens 'Smalls' follows her every step, hungry for her flesh. But a weird thing happens amid the isolation, thirst and fatigue – Smalls gradually becomes Molly's only solace from the unrelenting desert. Making sure she's got him either tied up or she's on a high rock where he can't reach her, Molly at first wants to take all her frustrations out on her travelling companion, but Smalls ends up her confidant and friend. The third act twist (which this review won't spoil, but think of a formerly savage but loyal dog) maks you wonder if it takes the concept a step too far, but even that somehow works.

There are a couple of genuine scares and some unexpectedly inventive comic/horror motifs, like the one where Molly uses a uniquely female accouterment early on to try to tempt Smalls into leaving her alone, and the story sustains itself pleasantly well considering it's just a woman and a zombie walking across the desert together.

Allen really sinks her teeth into Molly (no pun intendid), flashbacks showing the seedy life she led and one that she now wants to redeem. The continuity is well done too, with her pink-streaked hair and heavy make-up giving way to a sandblasted mop, blistered, sunburned lips and cheeks and the spark gradually going out on her eyes from thirst and exhaustion.

There's also – maybe unwittingly – a pretty strong feminist message. Even though there are moments of comedy, none of the horrible fates that befall Molly (including one by two antagonists who are very much alive) are glossed over. She feels and suffers from them but keeps moving forward in order to save the child we learn she has and ultimately herself.

It's colourful, a great idea and has enough scares and laughs, good ideas and good imagery to really add something new to a very overcooked subgenre of zombie horror.

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