Back in 2011, The Vicious Brothers (Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz), wrote and directed Grave Encounters, which has become something of a yardstick by which all found footage ghost flicks have been judged the last few years. That film, while being largely unknown outside of horror’s Cul-de-sac, has been very influential, even more so than The Blair Witch Project — a film regarded by many as the definitive found footage horror flick (I disagree). All one has to do is load up the horror category on Prime or Netflix. There one will find dozens of found footage ghost flicks that use the same techniques and plot elements as Grave Encounters.
The Vicious Brothers have continued making horror films since that first breakthrough. One of their latest, from 2016, is a zombie flick called It Stains the Sands Red. The Vicious Brothers share writing credit, while Minihan was the film’s sole director.
The film follows Molly (Brittany Allen). She’s a Las Vegas stripper/party girl who is hitching a ride out of the zombie-infested city to a remote airfield with Nick (Merwin Mondesir), who could be anything from a music producer to a drug dealer. It’s never made clear. What he does have is a Porsche, a handgun, some bottles of water, and a bag of cocaine — essential supplies during the zombie apocalypse.
On one of the many deserted roads in Nevada, the car becomes mired in sand and its usefulness is over. Meanwhile, a single zombie (Juan Riedinger) wandering around in the desert spots the pair and moves in to attack. Nick is dispatched with, leaving Molly to fend for herself. Being in the middle of nowhere, and with a handgun now exhausted of all rounds, all she can do is flee. But, zombies are a persistent bunch, so it continues to follow Molly at a rambling pace.
What a setup for a zombie flick. The idea of a single, would-be victim pursued on foot through the desert is perfect for this genre. Typical zombies are relentless. They don’t need rest or food. They have a singular purpose, and never get bored or discouraged pursuing it. The zombie in this film sees Molly, knows it wants to gorge itself on her flesh, and it will not stop trying to do so while she is in sight. Yes, that idea can be thought of as a ham-handed metaphor for death, but only if that were the filmmakers’ intentions. I don’t think it was. Rather, the aim was to place their main character in a tough spot and then get her out of it. There’s nothing metaphorical about the zombie in this film. It’s just a killer.
Minihan and company break up potential monotony with little flashbacks of Molly’s life. It turns out she’s not the best person. These snippets don’t do much to make the film better, and at their worst feel like clichéd attempts at artistry. That doesn’t fit in all that well with Minihan’s skills as a director. He’s decent when it comes to pacing, but too much introspection and character development hurts this film.
The film also couldn’t keep up the desert pursuit. The final act switches things up enough that it’s more like the first act of a sequel, rather than a satisfying resolution. There was still much to flesh out between pursuer and pursued. So, despite the moments that didn’t work before the final act, what did work needed further exploration.
In Allen, The Vicious Brothers found someone capable of handling the role, but the degree of difficulty was very high. For most of the film, Molly is the only character in a scene capable of speaking dialogue. Everything she says has the weight of soliloquy. A little bit more talent out of the lead would have gone a long way.
While It Stains the Sands Red won’t be nearly as influential as Grave Encounters, it’s yet another film that shows The Vicious Brothers are good filmmakers. At some point, someone has to give them a real budget to work with.