A desperate woman, a decaying man, and a vast desert are the three main characters in It Stains the Sands Red, an unusual zombie movie that’s both gory and heartfelt, and admirably makes the most of its minimalist set-up.
The odds don’t look good for Molly (Brittany Allen), a high-maintenance party girl who finds herself stranded in the desert outside of Las Vegas with a very persistent lone zombie in pursuit. But don’t be fooled by her clashing animal prints—Molly is made of surprisingly tough stuff, though she’s also helped by the fact that her undead stalker is awkward and slow-moving. If she can just keep briskly marching toward the airstrip where a ride out of zombietown awaits (she hopes), she’ll survive. Easy, right?
Of course not —it’s the scorching desert, after all, and her supply of water, vodka, cocaine, candy bars, and tampons is perilously limited. And this is a horror movie, so if Molly didn’t toss common sense aside and stop to take a nap once in awhile, there wouldn’t be much tension to work with. The bulk of It Stains the Sands Red follows Molly’s platform-booted trek with her snarling suitor in tow; it’s a remarkably simple set-up (with shades of It Follows, at least initially) that proves unexpectedly enjoyable to watch. Allen makes what could’ve been a one-note character someone you want to root for. Though she does some truly dumb things, she’s also very funny. (“From now on, you’ll be known as Small Dick. Smalls, for short,” she tells the zombie during one of their many one-sided conversations.) Eventually, Molly meets some fellow survivors on the road—and realizes that the worst thing to run into during a zombie apocalypse isn’t necessarily a zombie. In fact, having a zombie around can actually be helpful in the right moment.
Director and co-writer Colin Minihan—one half of “The Vicious Brothers,” the duo who made Grave Encounters—adds interest with some fleeting flashbacks that reveal just enough (Molly has a kid, somewhere), and somehow makes the desert look like a golden-hued place where it’s always magic hour, even with a ghoul breathing down your neck. The very odd bond that forms between Molly and Smalls actually feels earned, not forced into the story. And if you’re worried that there’s too much frenemy stuff and not enough zombie stuff, rest assured that Molly gets to test her mettle in that realm before the end. If the stripped-down It Stains the Sands Red never quite lives up to its magnificently trashy title, it still offers an interesting spin on the genre—no small feat, considering the never-abating popularity of zombie movies.
It Stains the Sands Red is out today in theaters and on VOD.