It Stains The Sands Red (2016)

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“You really are a fucking train-wreck!” Nick (Merwin Mondesir) tells girlfriend-of-the-moment Molly (Brittany Allen) as they speed out of a smouldering Las Vegas. Perhaps it is the vodka that she is chugging or the cocaine that she is snorting in the passenger seat of his car as they race through the Nevada desert towards a small airfield. Perhaps it is her leopard-print stretch pants, faux-leather crop top, fake fur coat, hoop earrings, nose ring and high heels – in no way necessarily signifiers of being a fuckup in general, but certainly not appropriate apparel and accessories to be worn in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  

It Stains The Sands Red knows its zombie tropes, and it knows that we know them – so instead of wasting time establishing what exactly has gone down, it hits the ground running, in medias res, with Nick and Molly in flight from grave reality. Flight is something, we will gradually learn, that Molly has been doing for some time, having years ago, long before the zombie outbreak, turned tail when the pressure was on in her personal life and fled both her responsibilities and her sense of integrity, retreating instead into the escape of drink and drugs and hard, hard living with a succession of jerks like Nick. Molly – an inadequate mother who has abandoned her own young son – has a lot of growing up to do, and she will do it in the most unexpected of scenarios and locales: while staggering on foot in the desert, pursued by the tie- and suit-wearing zombie (Juan Riedinger) who just eviscerated Nick. 

It Stains The Sands Red is a ‘chase movie’ in more than one sense. Not only are its central scenes filled with the cat and mouse which is played out between Molly and the relentless zombie – now nicknamed Smalls – and which unfolds, unusually, both in wide screen and at walking pace; but it also gradually modulates into a pursuit of a more romantic kind, as the monster at Molly’s back, in all his committed companionship, his happy acceptance of her menstruation, in his willingness to be a good listener, and (eventually) in his service and gallantry, proves to be a much better man than the lowlifes, cheats and rapists that have tended to be in Molly’s orbit. Smalls also gradually teaches Molly to stick by her loved ones, even when the going gets extremely tough, and so to stop being a passenger and to take the steering wheel herself. Significantly, the name of her young estranged son is also ‘Chase’ – for Molly’s outing in the desert is ultimately also a psychological journey, equipping her to reclaim her lost motherhood and to race after her missing child. 

What distinguishes It Stains the Sends Red from the majority of other zombie pictures is the evolving relationship between Molly and her pursuer. For despite his muteness, Smalls is – like Bub (Sherman Howard) in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985), Fido (Billy Connolly) in Andrew Currie’s Fido (2006) and Colin (Alistair Kirton) in Marc Price’s Colin (2008) – that relative rarity in horror, a characterised member of the walking dead, more fully realised than many of the incidental human characters. So once Smalls has left the scene, the film’s third act inevitably becomes more conventional – but nonetheless, director Colin Minihan and his regular writing partner Stuart Ortiz (Grave Encounters, 2011; Extraterrestrial, 2014) have crafted what is for the most part a fresh, smart and funny tale of undead survival, feminist awakening, emerging necrophilia and maternal redemption.

Summary: Colin Minihan’s desert-set zombie survival flick plays out as odd-couple romance 

© Anton Bitel