Friday, April 4, 2008
The Ruins is based on a book by Scott B. Smith, and adapted to the screen by the novelist. Smith had good success adapting his novel A Simple Plan to the screen with Sam Raimi as director. But for The Ruins , Smith is working with first time feature director and former fashion photographer Carter Smith. In more experienced hands, maybe The Ruins could have fared better. But as it stands it cannot survive the Audrey II Factor. Let me explain.
No, don't go down that dark, dangerous, spooky hole! (Dreamworks)
The Ruins begins with a group of beautiful young people & ndash; is there ever any other way to begin a contemporary horror flick or any other kind of group to focus one? & ndash; vacationing in Mexico before heading back to school. They meet a German tourist, Mathias (Brit actor Joe Anderson from Control and Across the Universe ) who suggests they join him on a trek to an archeological dig where his brother is working. The four Americans (Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey), as well as a friend of Mathias' agree to tag along. When they arrive at what looks like the ruins of a stunning Mayan temple, they are met by some very angry and hostile locals. The locals kill Mathias' friend (this isn't really a spoiler since he is so obviously painted as the sacrificial lamb from the very beginning) in a particularly abrupt and shocking manner. This sends the kids up to the top of the temple where they find themselves trapped. The natives have surrounded the base and have made it quite clear that no one can leave. Meanwhile, the kids look for Mathias' brother up top and end up getting into more trouble, mostly involving bad falls and broken bones.
Beware of the vines, gringo. (Dreamworks)
And here's where the Audrey II Factor comes into play. Audrey II is the name of the talking, man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors . The plant demands & ldquo;Feed me, & rdquo; and then eats any unsuspecting customer who enters the floral shop. Well The Ruins has its version of Audrey II, and as was the case in Little Shop of Horrors , the voracious flora elicits more laughs than scares. The only problem is that The Ruins wants to scare you & ndash; or at least I think that's what it wants to do. Unfortunately, memories of the hilarious Audrey II keep getting in the way. Hence the film is brought down by the Audrey II Factor. A more experienced director might have been able to find a way to make vines scary but not Carter Smith. The first encounter with the vines & ndash; involving a cell phone & ndash; is good and sends a little shiver down your spine but from then on it's almost all downhill. The vines are also creepy when they get under someone's skin and slither around, but after a while being surrounded by foliage isn't the most terrifying of scenarios no matter how ravenous the greenery becomes. (In the back of my mind I kept hearing Monty Python's the Knights of Ni demanding more shrubbery.)
Things are about to go from bad to worse... (Dreamworks)
I will give Smith credit for having a flair for unflinching gore. Since one character is a med student, there are a couple of opportunities for the character and the filmmaker to display some primitive skill with amputations and other crude surgery. Smith also has the ability to deliver the occasional jolt. But neither of these things is hard to do. The more difficult task is to build nail-biting tension and make us care about his characters. On those counts he fails. I think there were more laughs here than at the last Scary Movie . The biggest laugh may have come from Tucker's character exclaiming, & ldquo;Four Americans on a vacation don't just disappear. & rdquo; That line could have revealed the na & iuml;vet e and arrogance of these young Americans abroad, but as delivered here it's more like a punch line to a badly set up joke. In addition, Smith never exploits his locale for much fun or visual detail. The temple looks like something from a Disneyland ride & ndash; neither threatening nor atmospheric. And the vines looked about as real as the plastic garlands that adorned the theater at the preview.
The Ruins (rated R for strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity) is yet another disappointing horror flick. I don't know if I'm angrier at the film for it's underwhelming achievement or at myself for daring to think it might be good. But I spy hope on the horizon & hellip; Clive Barker is involved in the upcoming Midnight Meat Train so maybe a well-made horror film awaits me in the near future. To sum up The Ruins , I'll quote one of the characters: & ldquo;This is so not okay. & rdquo; Too bad The Ruins wastes the talents of the lovely Jena Malone (remember her in Donnie Darko ?) and Joe Anderson.
Companion viewing: A Simple Plan, Little Shop of Horrors, Godzilla Vs. Biorante, Donnie Darko