Doesn’t that DVD cover look like something you’d roll your eyes at and skip over in the Blockbuster straight-to-DVD ghetto? Between the cover and the Netflix description I was expecting mild entertainment, maybe something so bad it’s mockable.
Well, surprise – Red Sands is awesome.
Not perfect, to be sure. It starts out with a screen of explanatory text that is not only redundant with later dialogue but indeed repeated almost verbatim. The opening almost but not quite gives away the ending, or at least gives away the body count. (Which, if nothing else, saved me from spending an hour and a half going “NOOOOO DON’T DIE ALDIS HODGE!”) But from there, it proceeds pretty darn well, with some good scary tension and a couple of moments so clever that I might actually have gone “Ooooh!” at them.
The plot, in Netflix’s defense, is something of a classic. A group of American soldiers in Afghanistan, in the process of checking out a hilly area, stumble across an ancient statue carved into the rock. The Geeky Translator (Callum Blue) fills them all in about the Djinn, how they were created by God out of fire and basically have to be contained in *cough* statues or whatever because they hate all humans and will gleefully rip them apart if let out.
So of course the Company Asshole (Brendan Miller) hauls off and shoots the statue. Just because. In a rather surreal moment, the other soldiers rip him a new one for destroying antiquities.
The soldiers are then sent to a brick house out in the middle of the desert to keep an eye on a road. There isn’t a road. There are a bunch of dead, fried-to-a-cinder bodies, which the soldiers bury out back, blaming their crispy condition on a white phosphorous bomb.
No sooner do they get there than their communications equipment starts malfunctioning and playing weird messages; the translator and the staff sergeant (Leonard Roberts) start having flashbacks to People They Killed By Mistake, Oops; there’s an enormous sandstorm; and an Arab woman (Mercedes Masohn) stumbles into their bunker, not speaking any language the interpreter knows.
See, I would probably have given her some water and politely shown her the door as soon as the storm was over, but the soldiers let her hang around. No one seems to think this is a good idea, the audience least of all, and sure enough, it isn’t.
The cinematography in Red Sands was a thing to behold. I didn’t love the obligatory shaky-cam shots, but the night shots are lit in green, almost like you’re watching them through a night-vision scope, and that was a nice touch. The exterior shots really accentuate the feeling of being stuck somewhere unsafe in the middle of nowhere. The pacing was effective too – once things start going to hell and the body count starts racking up, the action is tight and claustrophobic, and the men are in as much danger from each other as from the Djinn. The acting is above par, with Final Guy (Shane West, Tom Sawyer from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) turning in a very effective confused-yet-competent performance that’s a nice change from Final Girls who seem to survive by the grace of God and a lazy scriptwriter.
The end has a nice little Twilight Zone twist that I didn’t see coming at all. I was like “OH I C WHAT YOU DID THAR!” and caused my cats to look at me funny.
So what’s the verdict? Three stars. I might actually buy this one for the collection if I can find it somewhere cheap. Good action, light on the gratuitous gore, and you really cannot go wrong with Aldis Hodge, so.