Kevin's Review: The Ruins
by Kevin Powers
April 5, 2008
Despite naggings to read Scott Smith's best selling novel, "The Ruins", I refused, being granted a reprieve when the film adaptation was announced. "I'll just see the movie," became my go-to defense. As you might imagine, such a shortcut resulted in only a taste of the enjoyment I might have garnered from actually reading the original story. The Ruins movie, while retaining about 20% of true intrigue and thrills, reminds us of two very important albeit cliché conventions: 1) always bet on the book being better than the movie, and 2) naïve American tourists make for great bait.
On its surface, The Ruins presents a wonderfully frightening quandary that is possibly the most compelling reason to see the movie. Four American tourists vacationing in Mexico naturally accept an opportunity to encroach on the local culture by venturing off to Mayan ruins with two newfound friends. The fact that the ruins can't be found on any map makes the trek all the more tantalizing. Once they arrive, however, the locals surround the ancient temple and won't let the tourists leave, quickly killing off one of the group just to show how serious they are. In short order, the white, wide-eyed group discovers there's something amiss with the old, vine-covered ruins. It's a fitting twist on the 'rock and a hard place' adage - try to escape and get killed by the natives, or stay and get killed by whatever is skulking around inside the temple.
The four American tourists who venture too far into the unknown in The Ruins.
Thankfully, this means the film gets major points in the beginning; all of which, sadly, are exhausted by the end. As the group begins to untangle the mystery of the ruins, they themselves begin to unravel. The story plods along as the group is faced with physical injuries to various members of the party - well-done gruesomeness by director Carter Smith - and the psychological battle that emerges as they try to stay alive. The ruins, smartly, isn't the only nefarious force at play. As you might imagine, this scenario plays out really well in the printed form; however, when translated into the visual, the artfulness is often muddied by other variables.
For instance, the cast is pretty lame, both in person and in character. Smith's source material apparently provides little focus on the group being a bunch of typical, aloof twenty-somethings out for thrill. However, this is made very evident in the film what with the group looking like an American Eagle ad. Not to mention, the casting choices could have been better. Jonathan Tucker is pretty decent as defacto team-lead, Jeff, given his previous genre experience (Pulse, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)). Jena Malone (Into the Wild, Donnie Darko), on the other hand, is far too stiff and cherub; you never get the sense that she truly cracks.
The ancient Mayan temple that will soon become their graveyard in The Ruins.
Additionally, quiet creepiness gives way to cheaper, seat-turning gore. This is often the Hollywood formula, so it's not surprising. Why try to be indirect with a scare, when you can smack audiences across the face with it? I, like most horror fans, enjoy this to some extent. But while I don't want to give too much away, suffice it say this approach feels a bit contrived and overtakes too much of the scare spectrum of the film.
This and other visual noise drowns out the more subtle and intricate fear that seems to exist in the book, elevating The Ruins to a much shallower scare and solid C-grade territory. Not to mention the utterly dissatisfying ending - a departure from the book I can't believe Scott Smith allowed. Even at just 91 minutes, the film seems to abruptly end, wrapping up in the most frustratingly tidy of ways. Although, it leaves us with an ironically fitting impression: ruined.