Kevin's Review: The Ruins

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.The Ruins Review

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.The Ruins Review

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.

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I cant totally agree Kevin. I thought it was a 6 or 7 for this type of movie. The characters generally were smart about what they did and there was a logic to it. I thought the creepiness was always there even though they did go with some nasty gore as well. I'm curious what the book ending was.

Heckle on Apr 5, 2008


As far as your comment about Hollywood's formula for cheaper seat-turning gore: Read the book and you'll see why they focused on those grisly images and didn't turn the camera away.

Stabmaster Arson on Apr 5, 2008


"This and other visual noise drowns out the more subtle and intricate fear that is in the book, elevating The Ruins to a much shallower scare" How would you know? You didn't read the fucking book.

Denise on Apr 5, 2008


there's no need for the language, Denise. but to answer your question, I consulted with a number of peers who did read the book and saw the movie, and they generally agreed with the sentiment. not that it's so unusual, b/c obviously, movies are visual, whereas books are not. the "intricate fear" as I put it seems lacking in the movie, which is what the book has been lauded for. it's more simplistic gross-outs than hidden, undulating horror. (to #2's point, the grisly scenes are certainly warranted, but I feel the movie relies too heavily on, it's a bit hard to color in these statements without spoiling the movie)

kevin powers on Apr 5, 2008


While I don't agree with Denise's tone, I do think you shouldn't reference the book when you didn't read it. Also makes for a confusing read when you admittedly didn't read it but reference it. No offense just a couple basic observations.

3volution on Apr 6, 2008


When will directors learn the following simple yet important formula. GORE DOES NOT EQUAL HORROR! And while I haven't SEEN the movie yet, the ending to the book was NOT at all a happy ending (which makes for an amazing book) and i can only imagine how deflated the ending of the film felt.

Birdwatching From Mars on Apr 7, 2008


I liked it. But some parts i did not get like the singing flowers

Michael on Apr 19, 2008


I haven't read the book but from all the comments I've read, not just from here, I'd like to. I did enjoy this movie, although it made me chuckle at times it was still a jacked up situation to be in. I enjoyed the gruesome visuals as well as shirtless Jonathan Tucker.

tzarinna on Apr 19, 2008


Denise, please grow up and TRY to act like the adult you claim to be. Thanks.

Kat on May 26, 2008


You know, it's been almost two months since the last comment, but I was looking for the book ending, because I don't think I'd read it right away. I do want to note that... How can you write a review on the movie versus the book, when you have yet to read the book? I know "I've consulted friends." That's not YOUR opinion, it's based on someone else. I just think it's dumb, really. And I agree with Denise.

Kitty on Jul 14, 2008


My friends are downstairs watching it right now, but I can't see it. I read the book months ago without even realizing that it and the movie were the same story. I was so disturbed by the book and the ending that I can't get myself to relive any of it, even through a not-so-great movie. Plus, I felt like that girl on SNL who ruins (no pun intended) everything by giving the story away. I wanted to make comments a la Mystery Science Theater 3000, but my friends were starting to get impatient with me. Read the book and forget about the movie. I'll compare notes in the morning.

Suzanne on Oct 19, 2008


The book developed the characters fully. You grew to like them or dislike them but most importantly you understood them. I don't know if it was because I read the book first but when the characters started to die off in the movie I didn't care. Even thought I read the book the movie kind of erased my memory of the people who I learned about originally. I think if the movie was an extra hour long and it was able to keep itself in pace and not get boring (visually) you could have seen more of the trauma. And possibly certain events wouldn't have been changed. The only good change in my eyes was Mathias replacing Pablo. Pablo gave a good reason as to what would happen if they tried to leave.

Eddie on Jun 20, 2009


this is good movie, i like it

affilrev on Jan 15, 2010

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