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.
* 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)
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