Alex Turner, the director behind the small-scale demonic ghost feature 'Dead Birds', goes once again at the supernatural market (teaming up with 'Dead Birds' writer Sam Barrett), in his second feature with the based horror involving American soldiers encountering something otherworldly in the harsh, bone-dry deserts of Afghanistan (and has there been some Sci-fi presentations using that backdrop in the very terrible 'Monster Ark' and 'Manticore'). It throws up the usual plight that we see themed in these types of genre films in the last decade (Deathwatch, The Bunker and Outpost).
In-present day Afghanistan a small unit of American soldiers are positioned at an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere to control a strategic road that the Taliban are using. On their way there, they discover an ancient statue which one of the soldiers use for target practice. Unknowingly to them it unleashes a vengeful Djinn, who decides to take out its fury on them.
The main problem with Turner's 'Red Sands' is that it was all build-up, for nothing. Never did it consolidate any interest in the situation, and the characters are truly hard to care for. The basis is not as compelling as it could have been, because everything feels half-baked and inconsistent. From it's supernatural element to the mental breakdown of its characters in a foreign culture. This made the script poorly conceived, as not much depth is taken out and there's plenty of time to do so since is has the soldiers pretty much sitting around. Instead it wants to be vague, but this occasion there's nothing else going on to let that slide. It's not weird, creepy or relentless.
Not helping also is the plodding pace and repetitive nature of the actions with the lack of anything really threatening to construct an ounce of suspense, despite there always being a lurking menace (in the Taliban, Djinn or their own sanity's). The jolts when inserted don't have much effect, because of the close proximity (where they do come on later in the film). Disappointing in that aspect because the dusty local colour is atmospherically photographed and there's a genuine feel of place with its isolation and eerie shades. Some moments do create a dreamy, disorientating air and that's when the howling, uneasy music score awakens.
Turner's direction is polished in a visual sense, but while he keeps it tight, there's a real empty and lethargic style to it. The unhinged editing with its jaded dream sequences only grated. It's a real step down from 'Dead Birds', because there's nothing remotely creepy here. Sure it's going for psychological scars, where the friction between the soldiers becoming a tool for supernatural force, but the supposed tension feeding off that angle was dull and annoying. The characters are nothing more than your standard fodder. Shane West is the only recognizable face, and remains acceptable and Mercedes Masöhn has a hypnotic presence on screen. The special effects aren't so abundant, but when seen it's weak and clunky. The slipshod Djinn creation is very forgettable.
Unexciting, patchy and so-so execution.
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