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'Burning Sands'

U.S. Dramatic; 102 minutes.

A solid young ensemble bolsters "Burning Sands," a drama that demonstrates the horrors of fraternity hazing come in all colors.

Six freshmen from the fictional Frederick Douglass University drive to a spot in the woods, where they are run through boot-camp paces by the dean of pledges, Fernander ("Moonlight's" Trevante Rhodes). This is Hell Week for the pledges of Lambda Lambda Phi, where grueling physical hardship also comes with random violence. Fernander kicks out one pledge when he tries to take the blows meant for another pledge, Zurich (Trevor Jackson).

Writer-director Gerard McMurray follows the remaining five pledges through the ensuing week. They are under orders to avoid campus activities by day, and to meet up at night for underground hazing.

The pledges have different reasons for being there. Frank (Tosin Cole) is a legacy student, trying to enter the fraternity to which his father and grandfather pledged. Ernest (DeRon Horton), a small and nerdy-looking student, wants the instant respect being a Lambda will bestow.

Zurich, who emerges as the movie's central character, has his own reasons, including the fact that his father pledged to be a Lambda but dropped out before the infamous Hell Night. There are other reasons, not so clearly defined in the script by McMurray and Christine Berg.

Zurich perseveres through Hell Week, jeopardizing his schoolwork, his relations with his girlfriend (Imani Hakim), and even his health. He is spurred on by two parental figures — Prof. Hughes (Alfre Woodard) and Dean Richardson (Steve Harris) — who for seemingly different motives want to deploy Zurich's leadership skills.

McMurray's direction brings alive the vibrant culture of the Greek system of this black college, where hazing has gone underground and gotten all the more dangerous because of it. He also has assembled this cast, many of whom you should expect to see many times in the coming years.

– Sean P. Means —

Also showing:

"Burning Sands" screens again at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival at the following times and venues:

• Wednesday, January 25, 9 a.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City

• Thursday, January 26, 9:30 p.m., Redstone Cinema 1, Park City

• Friday, January 27, 9 p.m., Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City

• Saturday, January 28, 3 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City