After a raucous all-night beach party Kaylee (Brooke Butler) shares an awkward moment waking up next to Mitch (Mitchell Musso) when she is still hung up on ex-boyfriend Jonah (Dean Geyer). Even though he just hooked up with Chanda (Meagan Holder). None of that matters once Kaylee catches sight of a strange creature lurking under the sand. When two of her groggy friends set foot on the beach they are instantly devoured. It then dawns on the remaining terrified college kids, including Ronnie (Cynthia Murrell) and Gilbert (Cleo Berry), who is stuck in a barrel with a dick drawn on his face, that the monster already ate the rest of their party. Now it has them trapped, unable to escape the beach.
Exploitation movie makers always understood the appeal of horror films set at the beach. Camp 'classics' The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) and The Horror of Party Beach (1964), cult oddity Blood Beach (1981) and more recent DTV rubbish like Sand Sharks (2011) trade on the enduring allure of sun, surf, monsters, gore and bikini girls. Filmed in just twelve days, The Sand (also available under the alternate titles: Killer Beach and Blood Sand) starts out like it is going to be a knowing tribute to this cheesy sub-genre. And in many ways it is. Yet despite no shortage of dark humour, some of it witty, some of it crass and obnoxious, the film ultimately treads a much grimmer path vaguely reminiscent of the Stephen King story 'The Raft' featured in Creepshow 2 (1987). Despite a few missteps along with a budget clearly too low to pull off its ambitious monster ideas, The Sand is surprisingly compelling for a direct-to-video horror flick.
The intro goes the route of Cloverfield (2008) with home video footage establishing characters and back-story, only with more drunken raucousness and brief nudity (thank you Playboy Playmate Nikki Leigh, selflessly serving as topless monster bait). None of the obnoxious, self-centred party crowd come across as especially likable, but as things play out co-writers Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell take their story down slightly more nuanced direction than we initially expect. The plot plays like an extended metaphor for post-party depression and regret forcing the shell-shocked characters to take stock of their relationships, mistakes and missed opportunities in order to literally move forward. Unusually for a monster movie, heroine Kaylee spots something is amiss from the get-go. Thereafter the film continues to confound expectations as even the dumbest or most selfish-seeming characters contribute something to the escape plan. Be it a potentially life-saving idea or emotional support.
Sluggish pacing, hit-and-miss satire and an over-reliance on hysteria prevent The Sand from joining the top tier ranks of Tremors (1990). After a promising and suspenseful first-third the midway point lapses into juvenilia when it wheels out Scream (1996) veteran Jamie Kennedy as an quixotically unhelpful and abusive beach patrolman who wrongly reckons the imperiled college kids are all on drugs. Nonetheless the remainder of the cast, including Monster House (2004) and Hanna Montana star Mitchell Musso, South African-Australian singer Dean Geyer and especially heroines Brooke Butler and Meagan Holder, are very good. They wring every ounce of emotion from a succession of downbeat albeit ludicrous plot twists forcing Kaylee to become harder and more ruthless in her efforts to survive. While there is probably a much better movie to be mined from this concept, for what it is The Sand makes a valiant effort and is worth watching.