The Sand, 2015
Directed by Issac Gabaeff
Starring Cleo Berry, Bryan Boone, Brooke Butler, Etalvia Cashin, Hector David Jr., Dean Geyer, Meagan Holder, Nikki Leigh, Jamie Kennedy
After an all-night graduation beach party, a group of hung-over twenty-somethings awake to a beating sun, and a seemingly carnivorous beach that devours anything with a heartbeat that touches the sand.
When making a low budget horror movie, an effective gimmick is setting your entire story in one location. It saves on money, it’s easier to set up, and it shows a huge amount of creativity on you as a director and writer to keep an audience on the edge of their seat without moving them around. In the case of The Sand, however, their plan falls short in one simple area: there isn’t enough story to fill out the runtime.
Set the night after an epic beach party, a group of teens wake up in various locations above the sand (a car, a beach hut, a table etc.) to discover that the sand is now eating those who touch it. Take a step into the sand, and you’re stuck in place only to be dragged under in as bloody a manner as possible. These teens now must withstand the blazing sun and lack of food and water in order to survive ‘The Sand’.
As mentioned earlier, The Sand boasts a simple plot which really works in its favour. It brilliantly sets up the events of the night before and it throws you into the horror very early on so we can watch these individuals work out how to escape. The problem is that writers Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell run out of ideas of how to keep these teens in the same place very quickly. If you look at recent one-location movies like Stalled or Howl, you need to give your characters enough to do to mask the fact that you’re not moving to another location any time soon in order to keep your audience invested. No one wants to sit and just watch people wait and hope for rescue, so you have to give your characters things to do and talk about to keep interest up. Sadly, this is a major problem with The Sand.
What they decided to add was a love triangle. Our protagonist Kaylee has just broken up with the unlikeable Jonah who is now dating the even more unlikeable Chanda. But rather than pepper this story throughout the script, The Sand throws on the breaks of its plot every now and again to remind us that this is a driving force for the film. In one sequence, Jonah is trying to use surfboards to get from the car to a table so he can search a bag for food and supplies. But what should be a moment of tension is ground to a halt as he stops midway through his journey to talk to Kaylee about their relationship. There are moments of extreme death and gore, which is then followed up by the three characters talking about their feelings for each other rather than the plot. A love triangle plot device could have really helped The Sand in terms of character development, but it’s thrown in at inopportune moments which just makes it stick out like a sore thumb. The other downside to this dynamic is that none of the other characters have any defining traits or personalities, so they’re just bodies waiting to be devoured by the sand.
Furthermore, there isn’t enough dialogue to go around each of the characters. One individual, who is supposed to be comedic relief, is stuck in a fire pit can because he’s fat (you can see why he’s the comedic one), but his dialogue is nothing but vulgarity and desires to get out of the can. Which would be fine, but it’s all he has to offer any conversation and they keep cutting back to him. It does nothing to further the story or character, but yet they keep going back to him for either laughs or filler so they can get to 90 minutes and be classified as a feature length movie.
Perhaps the biggest crime of the padding however is the traditional and rather unnecessary “quirky cop who shows up and doesn’t believe what they’re saying” scene, which not only goes on longer than it needs to, but serves no purpose other than to pad out the runtime. Well that and to give Jamie Kennedy some work.
The Kennedy cameo also highlights one of the movies other flaws: it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It feels as though Greenfield and Powell felt that a monster movie about killer sand might be too silly for some viewers, and so inserted in some humour to make it a horror comedy, but it plays against the film. In the end, The Sand isn’t scary enough to be a horror and not funny enough to be a comedy and so ends up being neither. What’s frustrating is that The Sand’s plot works well for a horror, so had it focused its attention on that, it would have played out so much better.
The Sand is clearly low budget, which is actually serves the movie quite well. Rather than have masses of gory deaths, the movie uses its limited budget and resources perfectly to showcase a select few. The first death in particular is gruesome and shows just how dangerous the sand has become and it sets the audiences expectations of what can happen from here on out (even if it does cut away from another deaths that’s happening at the same time and we never see what actually happened to them). But from there it almost gets a bit lazy. Rather than use your small budget to create effective practical effects (entirely possible given the plot of the movie), The Sand resorts to cheap visual effects which just look phoney and fake. This also plays into the movie’s finale, where it throws out the old adage of “what you don’t see is scarier than what you do” and just shows the horror in all of its unconvincing CGI glory.
There is a good movie within The Sand, and in fact the movie itself isn’t bad. It’s just nothing more than okay. For a cheap horror movie purchase, you can do much worse and there is at least a good level of entertainment and thrill to be found within its runtime. It’s just that runtime is also full of padding, a hammered in love triangle and rather unfunny jokes. Issac Gabaeff does the best with what he has, but The Sand ultimately fails at a script level. Sometimes a movie set in one location just runs out of steam, and The Sand is one of them.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and a contributor on The Flickering Myth Movie Show. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.