- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Andy Kurtz
ased on Scott Smith’s (“A Simple Plan”) highly lauded novel of the same name, “The Ruins” isn’t your average horror film, but it isn’t anything all that special either. Blurbed by Stephen King himself as “the best horror novel of the new century,” the book succeeded in creating an overwhelming sense of dread, all the while filling in gaps of action with adequate insight into the characters and their demons. On the surface, these characters were standard horror fodder, but with the book, Smith managed to give them personality to at least make you care what happened to them. Sadly, the film, whose screenplay was written by Scott Smith himself, comes nowhere close to achieving this depth.
The film, directed by former fashion photographer and commercial director Carter Smith, follows a group of friends vacationing in Mexico who come upon an ancient Mayan temple in the jungle. The group quickly becomes trapped on the temple as armed locals prevent them from leaving, and the reason becomes known fairly quickly as the group discovers an ancient archeological dig that has awakened something inside.
For the most part, the film competently provides enough scares and suspense to keep the average filmgoer satisfyingly creeped out, but it provides little more than cheap thrills for anyone hoping for a more acuminous exploration of the characters and their motivations. The strength of Smith’s novel was not only its insight into the characters’ thoughts, which were frightening in of themselves, but it also worked somewhat as a survival guidebook for anyone trapped remotely with limited resources. It’s the characters’ battle to survive the elements as well as what lurks at the dig sight that makes the book so terrifying, and this is something only superficially covered in the film.
The ensemble of actors in the film is sufficiently talented enough to give the film a slight edge over some of the dreck polluting the horror genre. Particularly, Laura Ramsey and Jena Malone manage to sufficiently capture the tenuous but devoted relationship they share in the novel. Unfortunately, Jeff, one of the pivotal characters of the story, is not given equal treatment talent wise. Actor Jonathan Tucker, who put in a solid performance in Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah,” is inexplicably wooden in this film, providing little of the nuance the character requires. Admittedly, however, the actor has little to work with in terms of script, and Carter Smith is not Paul Haggis.
In the end, “The Ruins” is crafted well enough and is scary enough to be entertaining for those looking for a moderately fun time at the movies. Its sleek run time of 91 minutes is mercifully adequate for that which the audience is presented. For fans of Scott Smith’s novel, however, it’s bound to be disappointing. Some of the more memorable moments from the book are thankfully intact, but there are also plenty of significant and seemingly pointless changes to be an annoyance, specifically the ending, which is painfully tailored to mainstream audiences. For anyone who likes the book’s ending, consider this the writing on the wall.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
For a movie that died such an unexpectedly quick death at the box office, “The Ruins” has been given a top-class Blu-ray treatment that might just mark a cult-like revival. The single-disc release of the horror-thriller features an unrated cut of the film (including a few additional minutes and a slightly different ending), as well as a host of interesting (if generic) special features. The highlight of the disc for many will undoubtedly be the audio commentary with director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt, but fans of Scott Smith’s novel will also enjoy the included deleted scenes, which feature some familiar moments from the original story. Rounding out the set are three production featurettes (“Making The Ruins,” “Building the Ruins,” and “Creeping Death”), the original theatrical ending, and an alternate conclusion that finds the flesh-eating vines making their way into America.