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The Ruins: Unrated DVD Review

The Ruins: Unrated

July 21, 2008

Director: Carter Smith,
Starring: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson,

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DVD Review

The Ruins (2008) is the latest gruesome horror film with a xenophobic streak in the tradition of Hostel (2005) and Turistas (2006). Take a group of young, attractive American tourists, drop them into a strange, inhospitable country and punish them for their boorish and selfish behaviour by subjecting them to all kinds of horrific violence. Does The Ruins simply revel in gore and sadism like the aforementioned films or is their more to it?

Four twentysomething Americans are vacationing in Mexico and we are introduced to them lounging aimlessly poolside at some hotel: best friends Amy (Malone) and Stacy (Ramsey) and their boyfriends Jeff (Tucker) and Eric (Ashmore), respectively. They meet an amiable German tourist by the name of Mathias (Anderson) who tells them about a Mayan temple that is “off the map.” At this point, the alarm bells should have gone off for someone in the group but instead they are intrigued and decided to take Mathias up on his offer to trek out in the middle of nowhere.

Naturally, once they get out there, they find themselves completely cut off from civilization, and with no cell phone reception. Once they arrive at the temple, our protagonists encounter some very hostile natives from a nearby village who clearly don’t want these hapless tourists there. To escape them, the group climbs up the temple to its entrance. The natives establish a camp around the temple with the intention of not letting these interlopers leave. They soon fine out that the angry natives are the least of their problems: there’s something in the temple that infects Stacy and things go from bad to worse.

M. Night Shyamalan’s recent foray into horror with The Happening (2008) was ridiculed for its depiction of killer vegetation. He should have watched The Ruins which knows how to effectively create tension from dangerous fauna and also make it scary. It’s all in the presentation of said threat and how the scenes of horror are depicted. The unrated version is certainly not for the squeamish as a scene involving an impromptu double amputation and another involving bloody self-mutilation demonstrate.

Based on his novel of the same name, Scott B. Smith’s screenplay does a good job showing how the insidious threat not only invades the body but the mind as well. Stacy starts to go crazy; not from the pain, but from the influence of the infection on how she thinks and acts towards her friends.

What separates The Ruins from the likes of Hostel is its depiction of the natives of the country our protagonists are visiting. At first, they seem to be merely hostile towards the tourists because they are outsiders, but once the real threat is revealed, we realize that they are actually protecting themselves, their country, and quite possibly the rest of the world. If you think about it, what would happen if an infected person made it to civilization or, even worse, if some of that nasty vegetation made it out? It is these kinds of realizations, plus the film’s modest intentions to simply tell a gripping, scary story, that elevates The Ruins above most horror films of this kind.

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt. This was Smith’s first feature film and he talks about how he got the job while Betancourt prompts him with questions to keep things moving. Smith points out that the film was actually shot in Australia with all of the locations used within an hour radius. They wanted to avoid casting WB television stars and pick actors who weren’t big stars. Smith and Betancourt cover the usual topics, like the look of the film and the differences between it and the novel. This is a decent if not unremarkable yak track.

“Making the Ruins” is a pretty standard making of featurette. The cast and crew talk about how the film is atypical of the horror genre because there is no clearly defined “bad guy.” They wanted to avoid a campy tone a la The Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Various aspects of the production are covered in this well made extra.

“Creeping Death” takes a look at how they made the killer vines look realistic and scary on film. The filmmakers based the vines behaviour on actual fact (?!) and, in an interesting tidbit, each leaf and vine was made by hand to give it an authentic look.

“Building the Ruins” examines the set design aspect of the film. The goal was to create a temple that looked as realistic as possible but also visually interesting. The filmmakers also picked a location with an impressive 360 degree view to establish the remote jungle locale.

Also included are three deleted scenes, an alternate ending and the original theatrical ending with optional commentary by Smith and Betancourt. There is more footage of the group rationing out their supplies, more of the dynamic between them as they talk about how they are going to get off the temple. The alternate ending explains too much and was wisely not used.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 83%%

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