Waking up after a night of debauchery which resembles a mercifully truncated Spring Breakers, our teen antiheroes find themselves beach-bound: something is in the sand, and when they touch it they die. OK, so it’s basically The Floor is Made of Lava: The Movie, but The Sand does more with its pleasantly offbeat premise than you might be conned into thinking. I must confess to having been prejudiced coming into the film, because the poster, trailer and press release sells it as the sort of wacky fake “B” creature feature that shows up all the time on SyFy: those films that audaciously manage to get away with being cheap and wildly dull, because the audience are pretending to have so much fun laughing at the film while it in its turn laughs at its audience. You might call those pictures wanna-“B”s, but The Sand is too good to be considered one of them. It never reinvents the wheel or even tries to; it just gets on with things, and it does so much more right than it ever gets wrong.
The script is solid, cheerfully dealing with the unavoidable horror-movie clichés: the car lights were left on all night to illuminate the beach party, so of course the car won’t start now! I also faintly admire the vagueness about why the sand is so evil. It is because that’s the premise of the film, which works much better than the ludicrous variation on the “no mobile signal” trope: it was a condition of the party that everyone’s mobiles be bagged up and locked in the boot of the car. Why? So they don’t take photos of themselves doing stupid shit and wind up on the Internet, which I could possibly accept at a stretch were it not for the fact that they also have no problem videotaping the entire party. And, while the characterisation may not quite reach the point where you could imagine these characters stepping off the screen and interacting with you, they get a lot closer than the average collection of stereotypes that horrors tend to pass off as teen peer groups. The acting helps too, for the most part, and the more the film goes on the more apparent it is that these actors are doing their best here, which is appreciated because they really didn’t have to. So many of the actors in these films so clearly think themselves above the material and thus don’t bother – that or genuinely can’t act. The most satisfying performances here are coaxed out by the love rivalry between good girl Kaylee (Brooke Butler) and bitch Chanda (Meagan Holder). Again, neither is a wholly original character, but they’re not badly-written and they’re not badly-acted, which is enough to make it work. The same can’t be said of all the characters; the obligatory ignorant cop, played here by Jamie Kennedy, is so dumb it hurts, and the big fat guy trapped in a barrel across the beach is effectively a subplot, and a minor one at that.
But when it works, it works, with the kind of muscle-clenching discomfort that you’re supposed to get from the “trapped movie” subgenre (Open Water, Adrift, Frozen, Landmine Goes Click). Certain suspense sequences here are put together with the sort of professionalism you expect from a first-time feature director with an extensive technical background in the movies (in this case, Isaac Gabaeff, prop master on Hollywood pictures such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Men in Black 3). You might be surprised he wasn’t a cinematographer, because the film is really attractive in a desolate and hostile sort of way. The aim is obviously to do a Jaws and turn the beach from a pleasant place to a scary one, and the cinematography helps a lot there. What’s also really nice is the minimalist CGI, which is just some translucent tendrils which reach up from the sand. They’re reminiscent, both in conception and execution, of something from the Doctor Who revival. But in contrast to the restrained use of CGI, the practical effects are outrageously unrestrained. Body parts melt and pop and tear with all the shlock and gore of a 1980s splatter flick. It’s wise; not showing the villain allows it to retain its alien menace, but showing its bloody effects on its victims establish why it’s a threat. It’s much, much better than the crap CGI tentacle reaching out of the beach that you see on the poster, and as a whole the film is an excellent lesson in not judging a book by its cover.
The Sand is released on VOD in the UK from October 19th through FrightfestPresents. Will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!