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Red Sands (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/24/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/21/2009

Nobody's perfect. That's a life lesson which is very important to learn at an early age. If you can come to grips with the mistakes in our world, and the fact that everything doesn't always work out the way that we want, things will be much easier. With this in mind, we can't always expect everyone else to live up to certain standards. Dead Birds is one of the most original horror films of the past decade. So, I was very excited about Director Alex Turner and Writer Simon Barrett's second movie. However, when I sat down to watch Red Sands, I should have kept saying to myself "Nobody's perfect".

Red Sands is set in Afghanistan in 2002. An Army platoon, led by Staff Sergeant Marcus (Leonard Roberts), is assigned to watch a road in the middle of the desert. Military intelligence believes that the Taliban is using the road to transport supplies and personnel. However, "the road" is a barely visible strip in the middle of nowhere. The group, which includes Jeff (Shane West), Trever (Aldis Hodge), Tino (Theo Rossi), Jorge (Noel G.), Gregory (Callum Blue), and Davies (Brendan Miller), arrives on the scene and explores the area. They find an idol carved into the side of a mountain and Gregory explains that it could be a djinn, a evil spirit who hates humans. For some reason, Davies shoots the statue. The platoon then seeks shelter in an abandoned building near the road. There, they find the bodies of a group who were apparently killed in an attack. During the night, an Afghani woman (Mercedes Masohn) suddenly runs into the building. She doesn't speak English, and doesn't seem to pose a threat to the group. Nonetheless, Marcus is weary of her and demands that she be watched. Following this, the group begins to see strange things, and members of the group disappear. As their numbers dwindle, the soldiers turn on one another.

Turner has been asked if Red Sands is a sequel to Dead Birds, and this is a legitimate question. Both movies deal with soldiers who are in extreme situations who experience supernatural phenomenon. For those of you who aren't familiar with Dead Birds, it takes place during the Civil War and follows a group of soldiers who rob a bank and hide out at an old mansion. Once there, they begin to see monsters and become very paranoid. Besides showing the Civil War in a different light, the movie is fraught with tension and creepy visuals. However, similar storylines are all that Dead Birds and Red Sands have in common.

Even if I didn't have high hopes for Red Sands, the movie would be a huge disappointment. I would normally say that nothing exciting happens in the movie, but that would imply anything happens at all. Red Sands may be one of the most excruciatingly boring movies that I've ever seen. But, before it gets boring, which doesn't take it very long, the movie is insultingly stupid. Every movie's story has to have a jumping-off point, but the one in this film is one of the worst ever. We've seen plenty of movies where some idiot desecrates some ancient thingamajig and then all hell breaks loose. But, why in the world would a soldier shoot a statue? Are we to believe that soldiers are that anxious to shoot something?

But, back to the boring. Did I mention that nothing happens in this movie? The soldiers wander around in the dark and then some really bad CGI shadows move and then nothing else really happens. The soldiers supposedly begin to see things, but they are often things which are so vague, such as someone standing in the desert, that there's no reason for us to be concerned. There is no suspense, and there doesn't seem to be any attempts to make the proceedings the least bit scary. There is a monster near the end of the movie, but it's too hokey to discuss. There's also an issue with the lack of character development in the movie. Every soldier fits some kind of stereotype (the redneck, the smart guy, the guy who misses his girlfriend) and there's no reason to care about anyone here.

I really hate to sound cruel, but Red Sands looks like something which would have been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and not just for the visual problems (more on that in a minute). The movie is akin to something like Manos: Hand of Fate in the sense that characters just walk around sets talking, while nothing else happens. But, unlike Manos, there's nothing funny here. The sophomore slump is a well-known issue (it must be if it has it's own name) and let's hope that's what happening to Turner and Barrett with this movie. Maybe they will learn from there mistakes and come back with a movie which is on par with Dead Birds. They certainly couldn't do any worse.

Red Sands amounts to nothing on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The film was shot on 16mm, but even that doesn't explain why this movie is so grainy. When a movie is set in the bright sunlight of the desert, any grain is going to be noticeable. But, the daytime scenes in this film look as if millions of gnats are swarming around the actors. The image also shows many defects from the source material, most of which are silver scratches. These two things combined make the movie look like we are watching a low-budget movie from the 70s on VHS. The colors are OK, but the bulk of the movie is made up of beiges, so the colors aren't leaping off of the screen to begin with. I also noted some video noise at times. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and we get a nice sense of when things are happening off-screen. The surround sound effects are good, most notably when helicopters fly by. A few explosions supply some notable subwoofer effects.

The Red Sands DVD contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Alex Turner and Writer Simon Barrett. This is a pretty good talk as the two friends give a fairly frank look at the making of the film. They spend a lot of time talking about how the low budget effected the making of the movie. They talk about the special effects, the actors, the locations, and things which were dropped from the script. "The Screenwriter Diaries: The Making of Red Sands" (20 minutes) is an in-depth look at the film's production. We are taken inside meetings via Barrett's video camera. This is a very casual piece, as Barrett talks to the cast and crew, tapes scenes in action, and shows us some stuff which didn't make it into the movie. "Red Sands Set Tour with Noel G." (7 minutes) is um...annoying, as the actor keeps referring to the as The Shape, which was a working title for the movie. From there, G. wanders the set forcing various actors to talk to the camera. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes. The bulk of this is simple more dialogue scenes amongst the soldiers, with most of it consisting of dirty jokes.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long