Red Sands (2009)
By: Julian on December 17, 2009  | 
Sony (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English, French, Italian and Spanish DD 5.1. English, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi subtitles. 85 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Alex Turner
Starring: Shane West, Leonard Roberts, Aldis Hodge, Callum Blue, Brendan Miller
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
Country: USA
External Links
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The Djinn, as a horror antagonist, is probably best known from Robert Kurtzman's minor 1997 classic Wishmaster. Like Wishmaster, Red Sands concerns itself in very convoluted terms with the mythology of the djinn, which is essentially an evil genie. This pseudo concern with the mythology (Protip: adding a dodgy historical titlecard is insufficient groundwork) and some awkward explanations that seem to be just thrown in as asides have the effect of dismantling any terror the movie's chief protagonist may educe. That's one of Red Sand's many problems: Alex Turner, the man behind the equally lacklustre Dead Birds, fashions an increasingly ridiculous and, aesthetically, immensely ugly movie out of a very good concept – a shame, given this is (to my knowledge) the first attempt to tease a horror film out of the War on Terror.

Red Sands is set in Afghanistan, and, after the vehicle convoy of a platoon of US troops is ambushed, they are ordered to peel off and seize control of a road strategically used by Taliban forces. The soldiers are stationed in a highly exposed cabin at the base of the road, much to their chagrin. On the way there, the troops discover an ancient statue, the existence of which surprises them, given Islamic law sees idolatry of such effigies as a violation of their strict monotheism. As one of the more culturally attuned soldiers is providing his colleagues with some information about the statue, one of the men shoots it and the archaic figure crumbles. This is, of course, what raises the ire of our djinn, and as the troops take up their positions in the cabin, it attacks.

The beast that is the horror genre can be tackled in a number of ways: the hardest of which is without a doubt conjuring up genuine scares (not just jump ones) and generating a palpable feeling of dread via atmosphere. Director Turner attempted atmosphere in Dead Birds and attempts it here, but in both films he fails abysmally. The first fifty minutes of Red Sands (keep in mind, this is a film that barely surpasses 80 minutes) is a feeble stab at getting the audience to sympathise with the soldiers and buy into the djinn's initial psychological attacks by evoking ghastly images from the troops' tortured pasts, which are explained as being some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. Both the atmosphere and the armchair psychology just don't work in the hands of an incompetent writer and director.

If Turner and screenwriter Simon Barrett fail Red Sands as storytellers, then Turner and DP Sean O'Dea completely cripple the film as visual stylists. Red Sands is exceptionally ugly; grainy, dark and absolutely unpleasant to look at. I'm certain this wasn't an attempt to capture the wartime aesthetic – it has all the hallmarks of a film done on the cheap, with a scope far grander than what its budget allows. The effects are equally pathetic – I defy anyone to keep a straight face when the djinn sends a fluorescent lightning bolt through the troops' camp, a scene that is surely Red Sands' nadir.

Red Sands' successes are few in number and they're mostly to do with concept: the idea of an exotic mythological entity getting its revenge on a platoon of culturally disrespectful US soldiers in war-torn Afghanistan makes for great horror movie material. But aside from a few glimmers of promise (mostly when Turner and Barrett very occasionally grasp the suspense element that they so consistently disappoint with), Red Sands deserves zero praise whatsoever. It's a wasted opportunity to make an interesting horror film, and I consider it to be Alex Turner's second convincing strike.
Presented in 1.85:1 with 16:9 enhancement. It looks terrible, but I've already made my point there.
The English audio track is presented in Dolby 5.1, as are tracks in French, Italian and Spanish. The audio is fine. 'String Theory Productions' are billed as the musicians for the picture and there's no real score to speak of, just doom and gloom sound bites which were really the best Red Sands could do to generate emotion.
Extra Features
A bit sparse, but that's still more than you'd want. Sony have provided an audio commentary by Barrett and Turner, a behind the scenes doco and deleted scenes.
The Verdict
I was a bit reluctant to endow Red Sands with the lowest possible rating simply because it seems like such a nifty idea. But this movie is a real turkey that warrants no better treatment, and it's a missed opportunity for Turner to excuse himself for the dire Dead Birds.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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