Jonathan Tucker - Jeff
Jena Malone - Amy
Laura Ramsey - Stacy
Shawn Ashmore - Eric
Joe Anderson - Mathias
Genre - Horror
Running Time - 90 Minutes
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
THE RUINS is based from the best selling novel written by Scott Smith. On vacation in Mexico, two couples and college buddies Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Amy (Jena Malone), Stacy (Laura Ramsey), and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) are having the time of their lives. They meet some German dude name Mathias (Joe Anderson), who tells the foursome that he is looking for his brother at some Mayan ruins nearby that don't seem to be on any tourist map. While this would spell danger for me, the foursome figure it would be fun to have an adventure. So they join Mathias and a Greek companion (Dimitri Baveas) on a ride to these ancient ruins. Since ignorance is bliss and no one believes in doing travel research anymore, the group doesn't realize that the ruins not only happens to be considered sacred by the Mayans, but they're evil as well. Once they step on the territory, they're confronted by naives with weapons who refuse to let them leave. The group is forced to survive without food or much water on top of the ruins for who knows how long. Unfortunately, that's the least of their problems since the plants surrounding the ruins seem to have a life of their own.
I never read the book for THE RUINS, but I gotta say that this film is one of the better horror films I've seen in 2008 so far. I was totally captivated by the events in the film, expecting a sort of torture porn flick but getting a moral, dramatic, and psychological horror film instead. THE RUINS isn't about killer plants that want to torment and eat people. Hell, it's barely a blip on the film's radar until the very end really. Instead on focusing on the plants, Carter Smith decides to focus on the characters and their moral decisions on how to survive as long as possible. After seeing so many horror films looking to impress viewers with as much blood splatter and horrible traps for so many years now, watching THE RUINS was a refreshing change of pace in mainstream horror.
I love the fact that most of the film takes place in daylight. We normally have dangerous things happen to people at night because it's dark, but to have it happen to people when the sun is out and you can see everything that's happening around you is quite unsettling. Director Carter Smith and his cinematographer Darius Kohndil visually give us a beautiful film that was mainly done with natural light. I couldn't imagine being on top of some tall ruins with that hot Mexican sun beaming down on me. It has to be torture. I also love that Smith doesn't cut away from any of the action. We see everything that occurs, especially the gore in the last half of the film. I have to say that I actually cringed and looked away at times because some of it was so graphic. Especially during that amputation scene, which just gave me shivers. And when one of the victims actually tries to cut the killer vines out of her own body desperately is such a disturbing sight. I felt so sorry for these characters, even though you don't know much about them, because I would never want to be in a situation like this.
Speaking of the characters, there isn't much character development in the story. We do know a little about them (like Jeff wants to be a doctor and Amy is an aspiring photographer) but not enough to connect with them on that sort of level. However, we do connect with them due to their actions and the situation they're in. Mainly because Carter Smith and Scott Smith focus more on their interactions and deteriorating relationships between each other rather than the actual terror sequences. I do think THE RUINS shows how ignorant Americans are of other cultures and how dependent we all are on technology. When the characters can't get a signal on their cell phones to call for help, it's like the end of the world for them. Then they begin to act like jerks or do the stupidest things. Yet it's hard to dislike them because when you're put in a similar situation, what would you do? Still, it shows that some of us do not have a grasp of reality. There is a world outside of technology. It's unfortunate some of us forgot what that world used to look like.
I did think the ending was a bit weak. It was kind of cliched, especially the ending on the Unrated DVD. I was expecting more out of it, I guess. Kind of disappointing, since I hate those "let's set up for a sequel" kind of endings.
Carter Smith directed a great film here. It's full of tension, suspense, and it builds up slowly. Like I said, the cinematography was beautiful and the editing was perfect. I totally bought into what I was watching. A very well made horror film that showcases its strengths extremely well.
The acting was also very good as well. Jonathan Tucker is one of young Hollywood's most underrated actors and he's believable as the standoff-ish Jeff. He pretty much makes himself the leader of the group probably because he feels he's the most educated and pretty much gets on the group's nerves. Tucker was more than capable in the role and took a stereotype that we see in these kind of films and fleshed him out a bit just through facial expressions and body language. Jena Malone was good as Amy. I was never really sure what he deal was with Jeff and Mathias, since she seemed to want both men. Plus she did some really stupid things at times. Yet Malone is a capable actress and did well in the role enough for me not to hate her. Laura Ramsey probably had the meatiest role as Stacy. Out of the core four Americans, Ramsey's character had the most ordeal to endure. I really enjoyed seeing Ramsey take her beautiful blonde character into a world of descent, paranoia, and delusion extremely well. Shawn Ashmore doesn't get much to do as Eric but he does what he can with the script. And Joe Anderson does more than he could with his short screen time as Mathias. He could have been the stereotypical evil foreign dude, but he's extremely likeable and you feel sorry for the crap he has to go through.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE RUINS will be on my "Best Horror Films of 2008" list. This film had me hooked from beginning to end due to its great direction, acting, and story. I do think the ending was a bit lame (someone told me what the book's ending was and I probably would have preferred that one) but the rest of the film is gold. It's just a shame this one was totally killed at the box office while that PROM NIGHT remake was a big success. Some people just have no taste in movies these days. THE RUINS is definitely worth a visit or two as far as I'm concerned.