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Case Number 15707: Small Claims Court

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Red Sands

Sony // 2008 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 16th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is an evil Djinn. Please do not rub his lamp.

The Charge

Some curses can't be killed.

The Case

The time: Present day.

The place: Afghanistan.

The people: A group of U.S. Soldiers.

The mission: Find a road that's being used heavily by the Taliban, guard the road, and prevent anyone from getting through.

And so, I settled in for the latest outing from director Alex Turner, who has become a modestly popular figure among fans of low-budget horror. His previous outing, Dead Birds, actually managed to get a few critical nods, and it looked as though Red Sands might be his most ambitious outing yet. Indeed, the early scenes in the film set the stage very effectively. The soldiers lose their way, and find a mysterious statue of a woman. One of the soldiers decides to use the statue for target practice, and the statue crumbles into dozens of pieces. The rest of the soldiers don't think much of this, but little do they know (people in such films always know so little) that they have unleashed an ancient evil.

The evil spirit is actually a sort of Djinn, which inspires this bit of dialogue:
"Oh, like Aladdin?"
"No, nothing like Aladdin."

In this film, a Djinn is not a friendly, wisecracking blue guy who wants to grant anybody three wishes. Rather, it seems that a Djinn is an incredibly dangerous mystical figure that absolutely hates humans. That's why they have to be kept inside of things like lamps (or statues of women). If a Djinn were ever unleashed, it would go crazy and start killing people. We learn all of this helpful information from a soldier who has apparently spent a good deal of time studying such things. Such knowledge will not help the soldier survive this film, but at least his last moments won't be very confusing.

The soldiers get caught in the middle of a sandstorm, and are forced to take refuge in an abandoned house in the middle of the desert until the storm passes. During the night, a frightened Middle-Eastern woman barges inside the house. The soldiers don't know how to react. Where did the woman come from? Why is she in the house? How on earth did she survive the storm outside for so long? Ignoring the possibility that this mysterious Djinn could actually take on the form of a woman, the soldiers carry on about their business. Up to this point, Red Sands is engaging and intriguing. Alas, the perfectly respectable level of quality cannot last.

We're treated to a solid hour or so of vague visions, shuddering soldiers, and thing that go bump in the night. Every ten minutes or so, someone will be killed in an unusual way. Everyone will panic, and then go back to experiencing hallucinations and suffering from increasing paranoia. Rinse and repeat. This is all incredibly dull, and occasionally made laughable due to some horrible CGI monster effects. It's impossible to care about the characters, because they all blend together and don't offer anything particularly memorable or unique (except Brendan Miller, who either talks about sex or attempts to rape the Middle-Eastern woman in every scene he participates in). Lead actor Shane West mostly skulks around in the background looking concerned.

At the very beginning of the film (featuring a much-too-brief cameo from J.K. Simmons), we are informed that West is the only character to survive the encounter. This is a very bad decision, as it robs Red Sands of any tension that might come from attempting to figure out who is going to live and who is going to die. The circumstances surrounding the deaths aren't interesting or original enough to merit the opening-scene spoiler. There's probably enough good material here to carve out a pretty solid 45-minute Masters of Horror episode, but this film comes nowhere close to justifying the 88-minute run time.

The transfer is quite a bad one. All of the dark scenes seem murky and a bit incomprehensible, which is terrible since 70% of the film takes place at night. The image is shockingly grainy and flawed, with lots of little scratches and flecks throughout. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed the film had been made at least 30 years ago. Just awful. The sound is a bit lacking, too. The dialogue volume is very inconsistent, and the droning original score is just annoying. I checked the back of the case to see who had provided the music, and was surprised when I discovered that the answer was "String Theory Productions." Filmmaking rule #465: Any score written by a company should not be used in a motion picture. Special features include a pleasant commentary with the director and writer, two behind-the-scenes featurettes than amount to little more than behind-the-scenes footage without narration, and a few deleted scenes that really deserved to be deleted.


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 67

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
• English
• Chinese
• French
• Portuguese
• Thai
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes


• IMDb

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