This was written by Rahela Choudhury.
Red Sands is available on Netflix and claims to introduce a new character into the Western horror genre: the djinn. Instead of the lovable genie popularized by Aladdin, this movie attempts to present djinns as scary and malevolent creatures that can mess with your heads. Directed by Alex Turner (of Dead Birds fame) and released in 2009, Red Sands is about a squad of American soldiers who encounter a wicked djinn in the deserts of Afghanistan.
While this sounds like a great scary movie, Red Sands ultimately fails to scare because of its slow-moving pace, uninteresting plot and characters, and crappy CGI graphics. For purposes of this post I’ll mainly discuss about the movie’s one and only major female character, a silent nameless Afghan Muslim woman (Mercedes Masohn), who is so negligible that she’s barely in the trailer:
A squad of soldiers sets up camp within an abandoned Afghan home in the desert. The squad comes upon a nearby idol, explained as a representation of a dangerous local djinn, and proceeds to deface it. Of course whoever’s watched the original Exorcist knows what that leads to: a pissed off demon (err…djinn) ready to take revenge upon the humans who busted up its statue.
While the soldiers are asleep, Spc. Jeff Keller (Shane West) suddenly wakes up from a dream he has about a mysterious veiled woman. At that moment a real-life mysterious veiled woman suddenly appears, crashing into Keller while running into the house to seek shelter from a sandstorm raging outside.
The Afghan woman’s character is an amalgam of every awful stereotype of Muslim women: she has no name, is incredibly beautiful and is always silent. In the only scene where we hear her talk, she speaks rapidly in a language unrecognizable to anyone including the squad’s trusty translator.
A highly uncomfortable scene later on is where two soldiers forcefully grab her and start groping her body for bombs…this is immediately followed by a scene in which her veil “conveniently” falls off, revealing her lustrous auburn hair as she crawls away from the soldiers’ grip. Thus not only does she remain underdeveloped throughout the movie despite playing a major role, the Muslim female character is reduced to serving as sexual eye candy, to have her body groped and displayed against her will.
Squad leader SSgt. Marcus Howston (Leonard Roberts) decides to detain the woman because he suspects her to be a Taliban spy, further reducing her to two pernicious stereotypes of modern day Muslim women in war zones: meek and powerless on one hand, and also secretly dangerous on the other.
Another scene sexually objectifying the Muslim woman involves partial nudity, where she gives herself a sponge bath outside in full view of the misogynistic character Pfc. Davies (Brendan Miller). Since she’s characterized as being weak and passive, it’s no surprise that she does nothing to stop him from ogling her.
Later, we see the suspense build as the squad’s communication with the outside world breaks down and their vehicles become immobile, all of which means they will soon fall prey to the djinn. Speaking of djinn, you’ve probably guessed by now it’s the Afghan woman. As though it’s not obvious, the film gives it away when it shows her capable of unnaturally extending her hands and continuing to haunt Keller in his dreams. At first the djinn, doesn’t do much other than act like a stereotypically cowed Muslim woman, just silently crouching around the corners of the house. When it finally attacks it only manages to directly kill two people, which we never even get to see! The rest of the squad winds up killing each other, supposedly under the djinn’s mental manipulation.
At one point we see another pernicious stereotype surrounding Muslim women (in this case of Afghan women) pop up. It is where we see the djinn in her human form being sexually assaulted by the character Davies. You would think since she’s a supernatural being the woman should easily be able to defend herself. Instead she is characterized here as being utterly helpless and in need of a (Western) male savior, thereby living up to a stereotype of Afghan women that initially helped launch the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan.
So we see Howston come to the rescue by pulling Davies off of her; this leads to Davies yelling a racist slur at Howston, showing he’s both a sexist and racist jerk. This causes Howston to lose his cool and kill Davies point-blank, thus revealing that the djinn is not always needed to motivate the soldiers to kill each other.
This movie is simply awful: none of the characters are likeable, the plot is confusing, and the scare factor is clearly missing. Most of the characters are crude walking stereotypes, especially the Afghan woman. Though playing a major role in this film, her character is never developed and she lives up to some of the worst stereotypes surrounding modern-day Muslim women today. She is also both sexually objectified and vilified at the same time; I’m surprised the filmmakers didn’t just go all out with the sexual objectification and turn her into a succubus! This film is rated R for all the cursing, violence and sexual situations.