Sand Serpents is actually about giant worms. "Sand Worms" doesn't quite have the alliterative quality to it, so Sand Serpents it is.
Like Manticore, horror filmmakers have found America's overseas operations a real goldmine of new settings to play in. Every ancient evil can be played out against a backdrop of conflict, which means there are plenty of soldiers with guns available to helplessly fire at the beast. Who needs the Colonial Marines from Aliens when we've got real Marines?
That's the sales pitch anyway. The truth is that director Jeff Renfroe just wants to remake Tremors.
Because it's Afghanistan (instead of Iraq, like in Manticore) there's lots of talk about the Taliban, captives getting their heads cut off, and innocent citizens caught in the crossfire. It's pretty clear that Renfroe has a political ideology he wants to push, and he pushes hard.
In between the proselytizing, cardboard characters get eaten by giant worms. These worms are bigger than the critters from Tremors. They're Dune big, which makes them nigh impossible to shoot or really avoid. The worms are fond of chomping down on top of anybody stupid enough to stand out in the open and, just like Tremors, they navigate by sound. When they're on camera, the worms are suitably imposing. Most of the time, see the worm's point of view, which involves soldiers shooting over their shoulders at the camera while they flee. It's about as exciting as it sounds.
One by one, the stereotypes (angry black guy, underclass girl scrabbling for a second chance, sarcastic guy, dweeb who just wants to get home to his family, etc.) are sucked up into those awful maws. Occasionally, the Taliban gets caught too. The movie's emotional core rests on the small shoulders of a young girl and the wide-eyed blonde private (Tamara Hope as Jan Henle) who's determined to save her.
The problem is that young girl doesn't speak English, so she conveys emotion with only her eyes. Cute as she is, this gets old fast. Henle, on the other hand, has all the charisma of a rock - she speaks her lines like she's in some sort of trance. Her foil is the team's captain, played by Jason Gedrick. Gedrick tries hard to whip up something, anything, between him and Henle but there's nothing there. He has a more convincing connection to the worms.
Speaking of the worms, Renfroe has a message that involves American soldiers wearing suicide belts. The movie's final iconic scene (interrupted by a commercial on Syfy channel - I nearly shut my Tivo off because I thought the movie was over) is both disturbing and peculiar. What's the director trying to say? Where did the giant worms come from? And why isn't anyone calling in a missile strike on worms that can be seen from space?
Sand Serpents doesn't have any answers because it's like Tremors without humor, or Dune without religion - just another can of worms.