With most of the good horror these days being released directly to DVD and bypassing the theaters (theatrical releases tend to only be PG-13 or remakes in '09), it shouldn't come as much of a surprise at just how good "Red Sands" is -- despite the shoddy artwork on the DVD box.
"Red Sands" is surprisingly realistic given a small budget -- and remarkably current. It's set during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after Sept. 11. It's not quite as good as "Dead Birds," the film that Alex Turner made before it.
After a brief introduction during which the film defines for us what a "Djinn" is -- the last time we heard about these creatures in horror films was probably the "Wishmaster" series -- we are then introduced to the film's main character (Shane West), as he's being interviewed. We learn his entire unit had been mysteriously wiped out.
Flashback a few weeks, to when his unit was still alive. They are sent on a mission to guard a road being used by Al Quaeda to transport weapons. When one of the soldiers performs target practice on an ancient statue, a Djinn -- or evil spirit -- is apparently unleashed. The men run across the bodies of a family apparently wiped out by a sandstorm. As they continue their journey in search of the road to guard, West's character begins to have nightmares and strange goings on slowly start to happen.
The tension builds slowly for our characters -- and most of the tension revolves around war not around any kind of supernatural that has been unleashed. It picks up considerably when the troops lose all contact with the outside world after shacking up in an abandoned desert house -- and are visited by a mysterious (and rather beautiful, in a National Geographic sort of way) young Afghan woman (Mercedes Masohn) who somehow showed up in the midst of sandstorm, speaking in an ancient dialect that even the translator of the group can't understand.
The soldiers begin seeing visions of their past "sins" in warfare -- mainly committing acts of friendly fire or accidentally killing civilians. Turner builds things up very slowly. It eventually becomes apparent that this mysterious woman is in fact a supernatural being -- and she's the reason that these guys are fucked.
While not a perfect film, it was visionary and impressive given a tiny budget. It will be interesting to see what Turner comes up with next.