Making a zombie film in today’s admittedly over-saturated climate is no easy task. Getting an audience to believe that you’ve reinvented that wheel is an even bigger undertaking. The fact that Stains is able to breathe fresh life into the genre while delivering an emotionally impactful, thoughtful, and, at times heart-wrenching narrative is nothing short of inspiring. This is the kind of film that comes along and reminds me why this genre that I have been so heavily steeped in for decades still manages to surprise me.
Brittany Allen plays Molly, a woman from Vegas that has played the town every much as it has played her. Together with her latest in a long string of loud-mouth thug wannabe boyfriends, Molly is on the road, headed to a small air strip to ensure her departure from what we soon find out is a global catastrophe engulfing the nation. An ill-fated pit-stop puts the two against a single threat as a lone zombie stalks the couple as they hide inside their automobile. Plans to escape soon fall to ruin and Molly takes off across the dessert, zombie mere steps behind here, ever hungry, nigh unstoppable.
This premise, simple as it is represents the best of small movies that are able to keep their stories small, intimate and still interesting. We spend time with Molly as she ruminates her bad luck while trekking across the sand, evading here assailant by sometimes inches, struggling to keep both her spirit and her sanity. THIS is not only where the film excels in its character development, but also where it masterfully captures the audience’s interest in a “what if” concept that is so well executed that you’ll forget that you are simply watching two people cross the dessert, one foot in front of the other.
This happens in no small part to the film’s lead. As a heroine, Allen is nothing short of perfect in the role. When we first see her, she is recognizable as the woman that does what it takes to survive; not necessarily a prostitute by title, but one by definition and action. Molly is a survivor in the truest, consuming, most self-serving sense. She uses men and discards them the way that she herself feels discarded. She takes her revenge against those that have kept her down in the smallest of doses, counting her victories, labeling everything as necessary.
Often, tragedy can change a character, sending them on a profound journey that changes the film itself for better or for worse. Molly’s evolution over the course of the movie is a dramatic one and the film grows with her. Her growth is , in fact, a fantastic display of the feminist character in horror. This year of the “Wonder Woman”, a lot of feminists looked towards the titular comic book character as a call to arms, citing the DC hero as a baseline for which all other strong female leads could aspire. This is one of the many instances where Stains exceeds the expectations set forth by its peers and very deftly blows their doors off. Molly is a character that plays to her weaknesses and then cuts them down with a sardonic sense of humor and a no-holds-barred will to survive. Unlike a super-powered Amazonian that was raised not be inferior, but to be the very definition of strength, honor and courage, Molly is the every-woman, feeling her gender every day, struggling to make a case for her importance and in this case, her survival.
Stains is not without its comedy, either as Molly and her pursuer share a strange relationship, the latter becoming her confidante, and in some cases her salvation. It’s no secret that Stains impressed me. It’s not an easy feat to do, but it do so with bravery and more than a fair share of charm.