The Ruins
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The Ruins

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There are many forms that the films in the horror genre can take. These variations run the gamut from comical to non stop blood baths. One of the more interesting is the psychological horror movie. What makes these films stand out is they fact that they depend more on affecting your mind with terror rather than just providing a cheap gross out for the eyes. Just about anyone can parade a series of disgusting images across the screen using enough stage blood and fake guts to float a small boat. It takes talent and more importantly control to scare the mind. It also takes a different kind of audience to fully appreciate the nuances of this format. A good film of this genre will ease into the situation; giving the terror time to simmer and build. Since this is a far more difficult format to master some latitude has to be afforded a writer and director when they take on such a project. This is especially true of people relatively new to film making. A case in point is the latest installment of this genre, ‘The Ruins’. This is not a perfect film by any means. There are missteps here that will keep it from ever being one of the top contenders of the field. What this film does represent is an honest, whole hearted try at making the best film of this sort possible. It shows imagination and skill with the cast and crew and deserves attention just for that reason. It is also far better than the flood of independent horror flicks that are around today. At least the people here made an attempt to be different and something worth watching. It is easy to criticize a film but at the end of the day all that matters is whether it was entertaining. In this case the answer is a resounding yes.

The author of the screenplay is Scott B. Smith. He also penned the novel which is usually a good sign. This at least means that even if every aspect of the book didn’t make it to the screen there was a fully fleshed out story to serve as the foundation of the script. Smith doesn’t have a lot of screenplays to his name but his previous work is one of note, ‘A Simple Plan’. Back in 1998 the script was nominated and won several major awards including ‘Critics Choice’ which it won and the nomination for the Academy Award. Usually an independent horror flick has someone just starting out in writing but here you have a seasoned professional. For fans of the novel there are some changes made here. This is only to be expected to translate the story properly to a different medium. It does add credibility that the book’s author took on the script work. The story tracks a group of friends and tourist on a vacation. Their plan is to climb to the top of a set of ancient Mayan ruins. Instead of taking the easy way to let the story progress Smith concentrates more on the shifting social dynamic within the group as the strange occurrences begin to happen. Naturally he has to build the tension faster here than with his best selling novel and many of the vivid descriptions in the book are relegated to the set designer. Again, this is to be expected and in this case Smith has retained the overall flavor and mood of his novel.

One other thing this film has going for it is it represents a return of the big studio to the horror genre. While there are many fine movies of this ilk coming out of the Indy world it is refreshing to see one that has a budget to work with. Chosen as the director is Carter Smith who admittedly has a slim resume at this point. Smith does an excellent job of bringing this novel to the screen. He has an economy to his direction that is also greatly appreciated; there is barely a scene that is wasted. Everything moves the plot and all important character development forward. He allows his talented cast to shine in their portrayal of their characters. He is able to blend an almost fifties classic horror feel with the blood and gore modern audiences have come to expect. In many recent horror films it appears that the director throws in blood, gore or gratuitous nudity because they don’t know any better. With Smith there is a craftsman like approach to presenting the film. There is just the right amount of mystery to the film that Smith holds back until the perfect moment. By the time of the big reveal you are just waiting to find out if what you thought was the reasons were true or not. Considering most horror flicks are such that you know pretty much what will happen before the opening credits end finish rolling up. If this is how Smith starts out in the genre it will certainly be something else to watch him grow. He knows how to bring in the tension from within and that is difficult. Sometimes he drags a bit with the exposition but overall this is a great piece.

While on vacation in Cancun two couples decide to take a look at some of the hidden and remote ruins in the area. Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and his girlfriend Amy (Jena Malone) are there with Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) when they meet up with a German tourist, Mathias (Joe Anderson). They are also joined by a Greek tourist (Dimitri Baveas) who wants to come along for the fun of it. Mathias’ reason for the trek is much more serious. He wants to look for his brother Henrich., who joined an archaeological dig and is now missing. The group sets off and come upon two children. The natives initially try to either ignore them but one runs off into the junglel. The group is determined to press on and soon find a path that has been obscured by overgrowth. They come upon the ruins and start to look around. Suddenly a group of the villages appear armed and on horseback. They are challenged by another group armed with more primitive weapons than the first group. Amy steps back too take a photograph and steps on some of the vines. After this the villages take a more proactive approach not letting the group leave. Mathias begins looking around and things start to get really creepy when he finds his brother in a pile of flowers; his dead body riddled with arrows.

This film comes to DVD through Dreamworks in association with Paramount Pictures. There is a theatrical version rated PG-13 and an unrated edition. My guess is most will opt for the later even though it represents about two minutes of additional material. Consider the MPAA will hike up a rating for a couple of frames this should be enough to justify the selection. The film is presented in anamorphic video with Dolby 5.1 audio. There is also a nice selection of extras to enjoy after you have watched the movie. There is an alternate ending that actually is quite interesting and a viable change to the conclusion. Three deleted scenes are provided as well ass a behind the scenes featurette. One of the highlights of the extras is the commentary track with Smith and Editor Jeff Betancourt. This film is well done with a very talented young cast that makes it well worth while.

Posted 06/18/08

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