Halloween Every Day (for a Month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Day 13: The Ruins (2008).
If The Ruins had not been based on a novel by Scott B. Smith, I probably would not have bothered to watch it. Luckily, I’ve been a fan of Smith’s prose ever since reading his novel A Simple Plan (which was later successfully translated to the big screen by Sam Raimi), so my curiosity eventually got the better of me, and I gave the film version of The Ruins a shot. I remembered that I enjoyed the novel, but I also remembered how grisly and ghastly much of that book was and worried that the film version of such a story may attempt to appeal to a specific blood-loving demographic by focusing on the gory rather than the story. Much of the movie is truly cringe-inducing, and yet, to my great relief, never at the expense of the narrative. The gore actually feels completely organic while simultaneously nauseating—which, in itself, is a pretty neat trick.
While the novel is much more comprehensive and—believe it or not—gorier than the movie, the movie is still quite satisfying. Much of the film’s success is due to the way Smith’s characters completely subvert the lackluster expectations created by the film’s college-friends-on-vacation- find-horror narrative template. Normally, a film about young people partying in an exotic locale inevitably disintegrates into a goopy, drippy series of cheap, gruesome thrills and obvious genre tropes, but Smith’s story quickly detours away from this well-trod horror territory by placing smart, capable, relatable characters in an horrific situation that actually forces the viewer to question the way in which he or she might react if it were happening to them.
Since supernatural stories only really work when characters react believably to unbelievable situations, the acting in a movie like this needs to be superb or the whole affair will devolve into a subpar cinematic version of cheese-ball Grand Guignol. Luckily, when horrible things happen to these characters (as played by Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey, Shawn Ashmore, and Joe Anderson) you feel it in your gut. Their performances elevate every single scene and transform the movie from a potential gross-out popcorn feature to something memorable and even somewhat haunting.
The Ruins plays like a road trip over rocky terrain in a car without shock absorbers. You will feel every bump in the road as it inexorably plows ahead toward its conclusion. I’m not sure that I would describe The Ruins as scary, at least not in the traditional “boogeyman” sense of the word, but I would definitely call it horror. (For the record, the ending to the novel is much more satisfying.)