Sundance 2017 Review: Burning Sands
I’ve never understood the life of those who pledge or are in a fraternity/sorority. From an outsiders perspective, I guess I’m just done of those guys who “doesn’t get it.” This is probably the reason why I chose to stay in my dorm room and watch Spider-Man 2 instead of being a college party bro. But, I’m getting off track. Burning Sands is directed by Fruitvale Stations executive producer, Gerard McMurray, and tells the story about three young juniors in college throughout “Hell Week.” The film takes place within this week and showcases the amount of hazing these pledgers receive to be a member of this exclusive fraternity.
Burning Sands takes offers a voyeuristic journey of fraternity hazing through the eyes of one, Zurich (Trevor Jackson) torn between honoring a code of silence or standing up against the intensifying violence of underground hazing. All while attempting to make it to class on time, particularly a class taught by Professor Hughes (Alfre Woodward).
Burning Sands is not an easy film to watch; it’s quite brutal actually. Every punch, kick, and vile assault the Alpha fraternity members lay on these younger students, are an uncomfortable, though necessary, film going experience. Throughout my coverage of Sundance this year, I’ve talked a lot about authenticity and real performances, Burning Sands follows that trend and strives ahead of it.
The standout performance is Trevor Jackson’s torn and tormented Zurich. Jackson plays the character layered and dense, without making it obvious he is doing so. Subtilty and putting up a front to try and impress others is an essential trait in those looking to do so, especially those in the teenage years. Zurich strives to be a part of what he feels is an esteemed group, partaking and receiving countless exercises that are against is own morality. The progression and arc Zurich goes through is the backbone of Burning Sands, which is a big reason why the Netflix original works so well.
Alfre Woodard is also terrific, though underused, in Burning Sands. The scenes she has are expertly acted, and her more grounded presence is a warm welcome in a movie that is grueling in its brutality. Her mentoring to young Zurich is written and executed with great ease; I just couldn’t help but want more from their relationship.
The sometimes brisk 96 minute run time falls into some unfortunate pacing issues along the way. The repetitious nature of the film can become daunting by the 2nd act. There is only so much hazing one can witness without it coming mundane, and while it does do this, the importance of the message McMurray is conveying may need that.
Burning Sands is not an anti-bullying film, and that works to the scripts strengths. The risks and consequences these young college student faces are real and happen every day. The want to fit in is something all of us deal with in our own way, and to see the lengths Zurich and his classmates go to achieve this, is one worth watching.
Burning Sands will be available on Netflix on March 10th, 2017