Reviewed by The Butcher
Starring Shane West, JK Simmons, Leonard Roberts, Mercedes Masohn, Brendan Miller
Directed by Alex Turner
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
In director Alex Turner’s new scare flick Red Sands, a squad of American soldiers in Afghanistan are sent to secure a road reportedly being used by the Al-Qaeda to transport equipment and weapons. While searching for the terrorists supply route they come under fire and are instructed to survey the area on foot. And while traipsing through the mountainous terrain they come upon an idol, a statue carved into the side of a cliffs face. Finding it strange to come upon in the middle of nowhere, the squad’s translator then launches into a monologue about the worship of images being forbidden in Islamic lore and how this carved figure is probably a symbol of some sort of demon, or Djinn. Here we get the obligatory description of what a Djinn is (think an evil genie) at which point of course, the big dumb mean violent asshole of their crew decides to have a little target practice and blows the thing to bits with his AK. Portent of doom number one.
The soldiers get back in their vehicles and drive, finding what they think is the road they are to defend, as well as a small house to give them shelter. Hmmm. Convenient.
The next morning they realize there is no road after all, and decide to check out a nearby village and make their presence felt. When they arrive they find nothing but abandoned tents and dead people. Portent of doom number two.
Soon a sandstorm comes and communications with HQ breakdown. In the middle of the turmoil a young Afghani woman appears out of the swirling sand, alarming the men. Is she Al Qaeda? Or is she just a desert dweller seeking shelter like them? Portent of doom number three.
Soon dissension sets in with the squad. The big dumb trigger happy asshole wants to have some fun with their female guest. Others fight about why the radio isn’t working and that they need to go back and regroup. Their stoic staff sergeant stands firm and commands his men to hold their ground. Red Sands then becomes Ten Little Indians basically, with the soldiers being divided and picked off by some unseen force. There’s really nothing to describe here, the film becomes an exercise in style and tension after the initial set up.
Director Alex Turner mines very similar territory as his previous film Dead Birds. Take a small group of men on a mission, have them hole up in a house, then have them besieged by an unknown and possibly supernatural force. Though this time with Red Sands, instead of bank robbing Confederate soldiers, we get culturally void and disrespectful American soldiers. The saving grace of the film is the performances. The cast does a believable enough job, the standouts being Leonard Roberts (from “Heroes”) as the staff sergeant Marcus Howston and Callum Blue (from HBO’s “Dead Like Me”) as translator Gregory Wilcox.
Director Alex Turner manages to deliver nominal tension and a couple semi-solid scares, but mines no new territory. That’s the film’s biggest fault. It’s just kind of blah and middle-of-the-road. The production would have been well served too with better FX. The visuals in Red Sands look canned and straight out of Adobe After Effects, some of them coming off downright cartoonish. I won’t go into the final payoff when we get a showdown with an actual monster, but let’s just say I was giggling up my sleeve rather than peering wide eyed through my fingers.
Red Sands doesn’t suck per se, but it isn’t anything special either. Just a lukewarm entry that is good enough to warrant a rental when the pickings are on the slim side. I would recommend it primarily for the cast, who again do a formidable job with very little.
The special features on the DVD are again of the vanilla variety with a commentary, a couple of behind-the-scene featurettes, and a couple of deleted scenes.
Also, while watching Red Sands I just kept wanting to pull it out of the tray and get to the real deal with something like Korea’s R-Point. Again, a basic premise of a bunch of soldiers on a mission who find themselves in a terror filled twilight zone. In the milieu of the “Military Horror” sub-genre (how about MiliTerror?) I’d say Red Sands falls somewhere in the mid-range. Not as creepy or original as R-Point, not as fun as The Outpost, but juuuuust good enough to warrant checking out.
2 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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