October 10, 2008

The Ruins (2008)

Despite the onslaught (pun intended) of horror films in theaters these days, most of them fall into one of two camps:

1. Lightweight, diluted PG-13 films with forgettable “stars” and been-there-done-that plots.
2. The ongoing McRemakes of great and not-so-great horror films of the past (Black Christmas, Prom Night, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.).

And unfortunately, both camps frequently share a common ground: Their films are awful. For a longtime horror fan like me, that hurts.

So it was with high hopes that I watched The Ruins, based on the novel by Scott Smith, who also penned the screenplay. (He also wrote the script from his novel A Simple Plan for director Sam Raimi’s highly underrated 1998 thriller.)

Plot: Two young American couples (Shawn Ashmore/Laura Ramsey and Jonathan Tucker/Jena Malone) vacationing in Mexico meet Mathias (Joe Anderson), a German tourist whose brother went on a dig at a set of Mayan ruins not on any tourist map. He asks the Americans if they want to tag along on his trip to the dig. They say yes and join Mathias and his Greek friend (Dimitri Baveas). When they reach the ruins, they are ambushed by angry locals, Dimitri is killed, and the surviving group is forced to the top of the Mayan temple, where they discover the fate of Mathias’ brother and encounter — well, let’s just call them “botanical horrors” so I don’t give away too much.

Director Carter Smith (no relation to Scott) does a superior job of creating an overpowering feeling of hopelessness among the trapped tourists — no one else knows where they are, no one can help them, and the locals at the base of the temple won’t let them leave. (Credit also goes to the young stars for taking the film above what could’ve been a “killer plants” B-movie of Scott Smith’s acclaimed novel.)

I was filled with so much dread, discomfort, and squirminess watching The Ruins that I lost my appetite during a lunchtime viewing. Speaking of which, I recommend not eating anything beyond popcorn while watching this film: There are several scenes that will get under your skin (and literally do get under the skin of the actors), and be prepared for a grisly double-amputation that’s not for the faint of heart.

Ultimately, The Ruins gave me hope for the horror film, because it did several things right: It had a unique story, it made me care for the well-developed characters, and (like The Mist) it’s a film that has stuck with me for days. It’s unflinching, unnerving, unrelenting, uneverything.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to see it?
If you have kids who crave scary movies, they’ll probably want to see The Ruins. But while it is a well-done horror film, it’s got several scenes of intensity, gore, or both. (The DVD is unrated, so it includes scenes too extreme for it to be released with an R rating in theaters.)

Will your FilmMother like it?
Unless she’s a serious horror buff, I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ll say again: The Ruins is well-made, but I’ve got a strong stomach and even I got uncomfortable with some of the scenes. This is probably one to watch when everybody's in bed, and it’s just brave old you in the room.

The Ruins
* Director: Carter Smith
* Screenwriter: Scott Smith
* Stars: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson
* MPAA Rating: Unrated (strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity)

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>


Gemma said...

All I can say is, "Eeeeewww!" If it makes YOU squeamish, then I surely don't want to see it. Good review, though!

Sleep Deprivation Ninja said...

My wife constantly wants to watch movies like this and then afterward completely regrets it. Actually, she totally regrets it while watching the movie too. The whole concept is just a hugh mind*@$!@. I just don't like movies like this.

[bscure reference]
*singing* I like French films, boring, boring French films. I like French films...*end singing*
[/obscure reference]

FilmFather said...

SDN, you compelled me to go digging for the source of your obscure reference. The Critic? Well played. That's one of those shows I largely ignored at the time, but maybe I should revisit it. Loved Jay Sherman's crossover episode on The Simpsons...

Raymond said...

I read the book by Scott Smith and am afraid that the movie will ultimately disappoint me. The book is awesome. I will check out the movie though.


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