Monday, April 14, 2008

The Ruins (2008)

After being wholeheartedly consumed by Scott Smith’s The Ruins, I was eager (and a little apprehensive) to check out Carter Smith’s (no relation to Scott) visual interpretation of the novel. I was both pleasantly surprised and a bit let down with the film, though it did follow the novel closely. The differences (like different things happening to different characters) and a lackluster ending may have dulled the film a little, but I felt that overall the panic and desperation of the characters was translated quite well into the film.

Two couples are enjoying fun-in-the-sun on a vacation in Mexico when they befriend German tourist Mathias (Joe Anderson). While lounging around the pool, Mathias tells them that in the morning he is heading to an archeological dig of some hidden ruins to find his brother, who followed a girl out there. Eager for something other than margaritas by the pool, Eric (Shawn Ashmore), Stacy (Laura Ramsey), Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone) all decide to go with Mathias. Mathias also invites a group of Greek tourists whom he has befriended, but only one named Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas) is sober enough the next morning for the trek.

After leaving a copy of the map to the ruins with the passed-out Greeks, the six tourists are on their way, first taking a bus, then a taxi to their isolated location. When the taxi takes off, they take a small trail into the jungle. They come upon some Mayan children who won’t come near them and it appears that the trail stops abruptly. Mathias discovers that the remainder of the trail was purposely blocked by some palm fronds and they continue on, coming upon a clearing with the beautiful ruins in the middle.

Seconds after reaching the clearing, a Mayan on horseback bursts out of the forest and starts yelling at them. He is armed, and soon two more Mayans join him. The group backs steadily up to the ruins and are forced to climb to the top. More Mayans surround the ruins and start building camps, intent on keeping the group quarantined. There is no sign of Mathias’ brother or any archeologists…just seemingly abandoned tents and the dig, a deep, dark hole that goes directly down into the ruins.

There’s something else about the ruins…there are no birds, no insects, no living things…just a profusion of vines that grow there. Vines that can think, vines that move quickly, vines that mimic noises and vines that are deadly…

The Ruins is an entertainingly gory film, one that is much needed amid the crappy teenybopper “reimagings” of Prom Night and the like. Horror fans should be seeing and embracing films like The Ruins that aim for more genuine scares, better acting and a MUCH better storyline than these blander-than-cardboard remakes.

I truly appreciated that The Ruins stayed so true to the novel, because the novel worked! It had the spectacular gross-out moments (bones stripped bare), shocking moments (“the cell phone cover is cracked…”) and surprises (“I didn’t mean to!”). All of the action felt more accelerated in the film than from the novel, but that also worked as things just keep getting quickly worse and worse for the wayward tourists. My only real complaint was the ending, which differs from the book. I didn’t think it worked as well as the novel and left things a bit too open-ended for one particular character.

Still, despite that, I enjoyed everything else about the film. The gore was absolutely cringe-worthy and definitely brought the images from the book to life. We get broken bones, severed appendages, a bloody brain blow-out, stabbings, cuttings and one nasty little vine that loves burrowing into open wounds. It’s not all gore all the time, though, which leaves room for building tension and establishing empathy for the characters.

As for the characters, they aren’t very developed but they don’t need to be. It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same situation – a tourist hoping to catch a glimpse of some hidden attraction but ending up trapped in a situation you cannot control. When all hell starts to break lose, you really feel for the characters. Credit should also be given to the actors for this, also, and I think they all did a fantastic job. I especially like Jonathan Tucker as the take-charge Jeff. He actually made him more likable in the film than he was in the book.

While The Ruins probably won’t knock your socks off, I still found it to be a pretty enjoyable film, especially in light of other horror films that are in theaters right now. For the love of horror, don’t waste your hard-earned cash on tripe like Prom Night or other half-assed horror films; quite complaining and go see a decent horror flick like The Ruins! While it may not be the best horror film ever made, it’s definitely not even close to the worst and it’s a solid effort and well-worth seeing in theaters!

Order it on Amazon!

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