Sand Serpents (2009)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Jason Gedrick, Michelle Asante, Sebastian Knapp, Tamara Hope, Roman Florentin, Elian Toufexis
Directed by Jeff Renfroe
A riveting, intensity-filled thriller about soldiers coping in a hostile, barren environment against an enemy that can still strike from anywhere and the effect it has on their psyche; easily the best movie to date depicting America's War on Terror. But enough about why you should see The Hurt Locker; this is a review of Sand Serpents.
Having just watched Bruno the same night, you'd think I would have seen enough prodigious wormy flesh objects wiggling about before my eyes for the time being; yet, still I tuned in for Sand Serpents, the first original movie to premiere under the newly rebranded network formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel. Crap by any other name remains Syfy.
The plot never gets any more complex than being about a small band of American Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan who have to contend with both Taliban insurgents and giant worms originating from somewhere beneath the earth. They do rescue "Little Afghani Riding Hood" as I dubbed her and get assisted by an Afghan refugee who may or may not be a bad guy. I don't write "may or may not" because I'm trying to avoid a potential spoiler; I use that term because the script never gets around to answering the question. Good Arab, bad Arab, they all blow up in the end anyway. That's the movie's policy, at least.
Jason Gedrick, an actor who's no stranger to Middle Eastern military movies, having starred in the classically corny bit of 1980's jingoism known as Iron Eagle, stars as the stoic team leader of a squad of stock military archetypes: the no-nonsense black soldier, Mr. Wiseacre, generic female, the whiny "We were supposed to go home in a week" guy, and the tough black ex-hoodrat who was forced into the army as punishment for getting arrested. And here I thought the practice of johnny law forcibly enlisting young criminal delinquents into the military stopped around the time the draft was abolished.
Now am I being overly sensitive in finding it just a tad dubious that the first two American worm victims just happen to be the only black characters and both get eaten while nobly sacrificing themselves to save their white brothers-in-arms?
These worms - never are they once referred to as "serpents" as in the title - are attracted to sound and vibrations just like the "graboids" in Tremors. The biggest difference is that instead of sucking you underground, they feed by rearing up out of the ground like the sand worm from Beetlejuice and coming down hard on victims mouth-first as if it were a giant foot stomping them. These worms are so enormous Kyle McLachlan could tie a rope and go surfing on their backsides. I'm shocked the screenwriter didn't have one of the characters say "the spice must flow" or something Dune related as an in-joke.
Pretty solid visual effects bring the worms to life. The production probably had extra cash for the animators since the film had such a small cast and the only sets were a bombed out shack, a couple of underground tunnels, the inside of a helicopter, and a whole lot of sand.
The first 25 minutes showed promise. Then there was a massive tremor followed by the first on-screen appearance of a giant worm rising out of the sand to bite a Blackhawk helicopter out of the sky; the first thing out of the mouth of one of the stunned soldiers looking on is, "That was no earthquake!" - a keen observation from the pages of "Duh!" Magazine. From that point on the same tiresome drudgery that often plagues these films kicks into full gear: cardboard characters in recycled situations reciting cliché dialogue, pacing that nearly grinds to a halt, and, my least favorite, "more talk, less monster". The unique setting and some decent acting on the part of most of the cast (not counting the blonde woman who borders of emotionless throughout) keep Sand Serpents' head barely above ground. Might as well have just retitled this one Tremors V: The War on Terror and released it as the latest mediocre sequel in that floundering franchise.
Now should I consider it ballsy or insulting that a b-movie set against the backdrop of the War on Terror ends with an American soldier heroically saving the day by committing a suicide bombing?
Welcome to the brave new world of Syfy. Imagine greater, kiddies.
2 out of 5