Director: Isaac Gabaeff
Cast: Brooke Butler, Meagan Holder, Mitchell Musso
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Who doesn’t love a creature feature? Isaac Gabaeff’s low-budget monster-under-the-sand thriller skimps on special effects and has some patchy performances, but it’s also a lot of fun, thanks to an engaging premise and a deceptively smart script.
Set in modern-day California and filmed entirely on Ventura Beach, The Sand gets its gratuitous toplessness out of the way early on, with a bunch of horny college students having a wild beach party on the first day of Spring Break. The next morning, a handful of them wake up in different locations – four in a car, two in a rescue tower, one on a wooden table and one (Cleo Berry) shoved into a barrel as a prank – and are collectively horrified when one of them gets sucked into the beach and eaten as soon as they set foot on it.
Realising that there’s a flesh-eating creature under the sand, smart cookie Kaylee (Butler) attempts to figure a way out of their predicament from the rescue tower, but she’s distracted by the fact that her boyfriend, Jonah (Dean Geyer), spent the night in the car with rival Chanda (Holder), and oblivious to the fact that her rescue tower companion Mitch (Musso) has a huge crush on her.
Borrowing liberally from both Blood Beach (1980) and Tremors (1990), this is an effective single location horror with a handful of nice ideas – the characters all hand their phones in at the beginning, so that no one ends up on the Internet after getting filmed doing something stupid – and a nice fake-out at the beginning that works as a clever dig against found footage movies.
The performances are mostly fine: Holder has a nice line in snippy remarks, while Cynthia Murell is effective as plucky-but-dim Ronnie and Berry is amusing as the film’s comic relief, screaming “I don’t want to die with a dick on my face!”, after he realises that his friends have graffitied his cheek. However, Butler struggles to convince with some of her line-readings and facial expressions, which is a problem, as she’s meant to be the de facto heroine. (There’s also a short, entertaining cameo from Jamie Kennedy as a cynical cop.)
Gabaeff keeps things moving at a decent pace, considering his cast are largely static, and he maintains a tense atmosphere throughout, while simultaneously drawing in the audience by encouraging them to come up with solutions alongside the characters.
The script embraces the silliness of its central concept and plays it commendably straight, although it’s fair to say that the film could have used a little bit more in the way of humour. That said, The Sand is slightly smarter than it first appears and indulges in some small but significant nudges against genre conventions – for once, it’s the girls rescuing the boys.
The special effects (mostly digital) are extremely cheap throughout, which is fine when it’s just tiny tendrils poking through the sand, but less impressive when they’re meant to be fully grown. As for the gore scenes, they’re suitably icky in the first half, but get progressively worse as the film continues, as if the production blew all their money on the first effect. But The Sand overcomes its various flaws and delivers a satisfying serving of schlocky creature fun. Worth seeing.
The Sand is one of the first films released on VOD through Icon and FrightFest’s new digital banner, FrightFest Presents. For more information on the other titles available from Monday 19th October, click here – or keep up to speed with our FrightFest Presents Week.