Year: 2017
Director(s): Colin Minihan
Writer(s): Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz
Region of Origin: US

Rating: Unrated
Color, 92 mins

Synopsis: In the throes of a zombie apocalypse, a troubled woman from Las Vegas with a dark past finds herself stranded in the desert with a lone and ravenous zombie on her tail. (Source)

Zombies and the metaphor behind them are best when simple and to the point. Originally, the undead were a stark reflection of our primal selves, hanging on to some semblance of life as their living counterparts obliviously hurtled towards oblivion. Over the years, this message has grown diluted and murky, with an over saturation of the undead getting lost beneath trends and aimless status quo. Well, believe me when I say, Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red is the antidote to this, a refreshing take on the genre that brings the metaphor back to its roots, in turn, bringing back its potency and originality. Essentially a single, prolonged chase scene featuring one woman, one zombie and the limitless possibilities of the Nevada desert, Mihinan’s film turns out to be a sly tale about his heroine coming to grips with her own mortality. Star Brittany Allen is a showstopper, navigating the story’s shifting tones and emotion with ferocity and vulnerability. You can’t help but crack a smile thanks to Minihan’s clever spin, one that’s lined with a healthy dose of irreverence and unpredictable ingenuity.

In the aftermath of a societal collapse, Molly (Brittany Allen) and her boyfriend Nick (Merwin Mondesir) have fled from Las Vegas, speeding through the empty Nevada desert to escape with a friend at an airfield. An unexpected stop renders their car useless, and even worse, puts them on the path of one very determined zombie (Juan Riedinger). Gangster Nick grabs his gun and fires off a few shots, but to no avail, eventually becoming dinner to the undead pursuer, his intestines lining the interstate. Reeling, Molly quickly grabs a few bottles of water, her fur coat and purse, charting a course to the airfield with her phone and absconding into the desert. It doesn’t take long for the stalker to find Molly, his persistence only matched by her determination to survive. Then something insane happens, something I don’t want to spoil – let’s just say, the two discover how much they need each other…

The thing about Minihan’s film, is that like the unpredictable relationship (for lack of a better term) between hunter and hunted, it keeps shifting and transforming the deeper into the desert it gets. Molly and her peruser, later nicknamed Smalls, are almost exclusively the only two in the film amidst a backdrop of nothingness, but you’d be surprised what Minihan has up his sleeve, subverting expectation at every turn. At about the midway point, things really come alive, once Molly takes full command of her situation, using her smarts to adapt as she realizes how much of her self she’s been suppressing. Ultimately, this thing lives through its smart contrast between Molly and Smalls, both sluggishly navigating an endless sea of dust and rock, yet finding a primal middle ground despite their unique circumstance. Without saying too much, the chase morphs into something stranger than you could’ve predicted, allowing Molly to confront the kind of person she always wanted to be, versus who she was before the world’s end.

Taking Minihan’s whopper of a premise and smart direction, Brittany Allen makes Molly one of the most fascinating characters in a long while. She’s literally left to fend for herself the entire duration, and while she’s built on archetypes (single mother, ex-stripper, all around hot mess), Allen’s Molly feels totally lived in, full of pathos and more than just her surface traits. Allen completely commands the screen, navigating the film’s deadpan humor but also its emotional nuance, funneling the film’s themes into a realistically imperfect, but empathetic heroine. Juan Riedinger, as Molly’s pursuer Smalls, is mostly background, making it even more impressive when Riedinger gives the blank slate of a character unexpected depth, turning body language and a stray glance into the film’s most wrenching moment.

As its title suggests, It Stains the Sands Red leaves a lasting impression, a desert-set escape story that ironically helps to relieve a genre dry spell. From the beautiful yet thorny vistas on display, to Allen and Riedinger’s all-in performances, the film is sure to surprise even the most seasoned of genre fans, taking sharp turns every time the story starts to feel comfortable. Armed with smart laughs (including an all-timer involving a tampon) and a tough heroine who’s magnetic, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

SG