Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
What's it about
Jarhead meets The Exorcist prequel (the good one).
Is it good movie?
Right off the bat, I will admit that I was prejudiced against this movie from the get go. Alex Turnerís only other feature length film is Dead Birds, and I really didnít like it. Also, everything about the DVD case for Red Sands screams Sci-Fi Channel movie. So, it was with no expectations that I sat down and pressed play, and was therefore suitably impressed with the result. It is firmly R-Rated, has some vaguely recognizable faces, and an anachronistically slow pace for modern direct to video horror fare.
Shane West (most notably from ER) stars as PFC Jeff XXX, on a routine mission with his unit to scout out Taliban operatives in Afghanistan, who hole up in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. Except the hapless squad runs afoul of a Djinn, which in Islamic lore is a shape-shifting creature comprised of smokeless fire, made by God before man, with a nasty dislike of humankind. A mixture of the evil spirit and cabin fever set the stage to let each manís baser nature, their fears, regrets and neuroses, come to the fore, and pretty soon it is a question of who will destroy them all first: the Djinn, or themselves.
The best thing about this film is its decision to attain mood over hack and slash stalking. This is no kill every third scene F13-type affair. A lot of time and care is taken setting up the isolation the men feel in the uniformly drab desert, and how lost they feel in a land far from their own, and how useless they feel chasing phantoms in a sandstorm. The tension is ratcheted up as the monotony increases, and the men go from cracking jokes and playfully insulting each other to becoming a segmented group of people who donít much like each other. Part of this division comes from Mercedes Masohn as an Arab girl who appears on their doorstep, speaking a dialect even their interpreter cannot understand. This is to the Djinnís liking, as division makes it easier to conquer.
Now, you will have to really engage every spare bit of imagination you have, because the special effects kind of suck. The more subtle stuff is done well, and damned creepy, but the bigger CG shots are just a joke. Weíre talking Atari 2600 time. But I think that the script and performances are strong enough to surmount that, if you, the viewer, is willing to perform a little suspension of disbelief. Youíll be glad that you did, because there is really enough meat on this bone to justify a meal. Plus, there are a couple of scenes featuring JK Simmons, lending a little gravitas to the proceedings.
Video / Audio
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. The lionís share of the film was shot on 16mm film, which is a treat in the mostly video low-budget arena.
Audio: The audio is in Dolby Digital, and there are a whopping amount of dubbed languages and subtitles, check it out: Languages: English, Portuguese, Thai, French, and Spanish; Subtitles: English, French, Chinese, Spanish, Thai, and Portuguese. Wow.
The Screenwriter Diaries: the Making of Red Sands: This is a 20-minute behind the scenes piece shot by the writer, Simon Barrett. It is broken up into 22 separate pieces, and is quite funny and interesting. I always find that on very serious films, the behind the scenes is goofy. I guess they need to blow off some steam. Anyway, this feature is self-deprecating and informative, both things that I appreciate greatly in a BTS.
Red Sands Set tour with Noel G.: This 7-minute set tour is the opposite of the previous feature. It is led by a genuinely annoying person, and imparts no necessary or interesting information.
Commentary with director Alex Turner and writer Simon Barrett: Excellent commentary, which shares the same vibe as the making of feature. I like the fact that Barrett assures the listening audience that they will not be describing the action on the screen, which is a pet peeve of mine with commentaries. So if you listen to this one, you will get an entertaining mix of nuts and bolts stuff, artistic intent, and general sophomoric humor.
Deleted Scenes: There are only four deleted scenes, which are really more like extended scenes, as very little of what was shot wasn't used. The only notable one is a botched EFX scene, with some fake looking entrails.
Red Sands is a nice little gem in the rough, well worth giving a peak. The prologue is obnoxious drivel tacking on at the studioís behest (typically moronic anti-artist suit and tie nonsense), but once you get past that, and the not quite finished visual effects, what you end up with is a moody character piece punctuated by grisly deaths. And that ainít half-bad.