Without getting too bogged down in the machinations of the plot of It Stains The Sands Red, the film’s idea for a fresh take on the zombie subgenre is to localise the epidemic to just one of the undead, and his one victim. Spending a large amount of its runtime simply following one woman trekking through the desert, being tirelessly pursued by a zombie she comes to know as “Smalls”, the film wrenches every last ounce of ingenuity from its central conceit, even if it ultimately fumbles its ending.
Intrinsic to the success of It Stains The Sands Red is a powerhouse central performance from Brittany Allen as Molly. Over the course of the film’s main chase, her treatment of Smalls as an opponent, an irritant and – most unexpectedly and effectively – a confidant sees her run the gauntlet of emotions with very little to bounce off. She is in virtually every frame, and carries the film with genuine poise. Working within very limited parameters, It Stains The Sands Red is beautifully photographed, well-acted and hits some surprising and original plot beats.
In what is an impressive piece of self-awareness, Sands pivots away from its main plot contrivance just as it’s about to outstay its welcome. The issue, however, is what it pivots to. In the wake of the film’s lean, original setup, the attempt to pack so much character drama into its finale feels simultaneously rushed and underdeveloped, and as a result there’s a sense of derailment to the final act. That being said, It Stains The Sands Red has built up such a bank of goodwill by this point that this doesn’t feel like a total showstopper, and this still fells like the latest in a long line of evidence that in the face of constant accusations of oversaturation, the undead can still be shaped into something very much alive in the right hands.