Sunday, April 06, 2008

329 - The Ruins review

It’s hard to believe that “The Ruins” was transferred from novel to screenplay form by Scott Smith. I say this because Scott Smith also wrote the 2006 novel, but the film feels like it was channeled through the lens of a different writer, one with a severely dissimilar vision of what chills and what thrills.

Pic begins in Cancún, where a group of twenty-somethings enjoy the sun and promiscuity. Things turn a bit sour when they travel to an unmapped Mayan pyramid; upon arrival, a group of angry locals shows up to riddle one of them with arrows and drive the rest to the top of the structure. Ever notice how horror films that take place outside of America often seem like feature-length ads produced by competing tourist destinations?

The cause for this quarantine quickly becomes clear when the vines that cover the pyramid begin snatching up their body parts, crawling around in their skin, verbally taunting them, and other things we’re not used to seeing plant life doing. So terrible are these plants that the locals immediately gun down one of their own children after he barely touches a patch.

Though there’s much potential for both drama and horror here, the film ignores the former and focuses on the latter. The characters simply float from one situation to another, heading into various nightmares as if they knew the script and felt obligated to walk through the motions. The events and discussions are plopped so gracelessly into the audience’s lap that the film feels like a summary of itself: tourists go here, do this, get brutalized by that, and then the film ends.

The filmmaker’s emphasis on gore might make business sense, but is a staggering miscalculation for the art. Where the book’s tension stems from the bitter internal conflicts within the group, the film’s comes primarily from scenes where a hunting knife becomes the sole surgical instrument for amputations and removing plants buried in human flesh. If these sequences don’t make you wince, then I’d hate to think of what would, but these visceral moments are cheap stomach-churners compared to the potential wealth of terror that could be extracted from scenarios where characters turn their insecurities and worst fears on one another.

Without a reason to care about these people on screen, we’re just watching them suffer, and in the process, so do we, though at least we get to keep our limbs.

2 out of 5


Ramin said...

This was a good review. I found it to be concise yet informative. Though I would think movies we don't enjoy would be difficult to dwell on hence making the review shorter.

Ryan said...

So, like hostel only with plants?