Las Vegas, an oasis of glittering upright jewels in the endless desert, is on fire; a lone car speeds along the freeway out of the city, Molly and Nick trying to make their way to safety. Stopping for a moment by the side of the road they find themselves unable to start again, the wheels spinning in the sand. Given time they could free the car, but time is something they don’t have.
Though not fully able bodied, the figure in the distance moves fast; Nick has a gun in the glove compartment but despite his gangster attitude he is a terrible shot, and soon they are out of bullets and trapped in the car as outside the hungry zombie waits, and with no indication that he will be moving on any time soon the hours drag until the sun sets.
Neither Nick nor Molly are calm or organised, and inevitably things go bad, Molly fleeing alone across the darkened sands while behind her persistent pursuer shuffles along, tracking her scent. It’s a damn big desert and a long way to go to the airfield where Nick’s friend Jimmy has said he will wait for them, but not for long.
Alone under the stars with her thoughts and her memories, all Molly has is a few bottles of water, a cellphone without much power and intermittent signal and her regrets. She doesn’t have to outrun him, just outpace him, but she is just as stubborn as her stalker and even with only the limited resources around her to make weapons she will not go down with a fight.
With its British premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, the third feature from writer/director Colin Minihan after Grave Encounters, credited to the Vicious Brothers, and alien abduction horror Extraterrestrial, while the premise of It Stains the Sands Red appears flimsy the realisation is a huge step up from that science fiction mashup. Co-written with his former Vicious sibling Stuart Ortiz, it was Minihan’s onscreen muse, Defiance‘s Brittany Allen, who encouraged the duo to change the originally proposed alcoholic male lead to down-on-her-luck showgirl Molly.
Present in almost every shot and suffering for her art, enduring cold desert nights in little more than leggings and a crop top as she hikes in her platform boots, it is Allen who carries the film and makes Molly a deeper person than who she first appears to be but what surprises is her changing relationship with the figure who follows her, played wordlessly by Narcos‘ Juan Riedinger.
A reflection of her conscience, a sounding board for her fears who accompanies her on her journey through the stunning and desolate wilderness to find herself and her purpose, the minimalism of It Stains the Sands Red is the antithesis of the grinding misery porn of The Walking Dead and it is all the more interesting for it, though reflecting that show the greater threat is Molly’s would-be rescuers.
With support from Hemlock Grove‘s Merwin Mondesir as Nick and V‘s Michael Filipowich as Jimmy, the moments of humour are few but they are successful, learning the hard way that zombies don’t play fetch, and while occasionally the film could be tightened it is still a fresh take on a subgenre which in the mainstream has largely been beaten to the grave and beyond.