Sunday, June 29, 2008


Four young American tourists are on a Mexican vacation, when a chance encounter with German Mathias (Joe Anderson, from Control and Across The Universe) sends them on a trek to an ancient Mayan temple, one that isn’t even on the guide books. This being an R-rated horror movie, it should come as no surprise then that there is something in the temple, an insidious, persistent horror that will put these pretty young things in terrible jeopardy.

Based on a Scott B. Smith novel, The Ruins is a crackerjack exercise in shudder-inducing horror with a commendable cast that includes two of young Hollywood’s dependable performers, The Black Donnellys’ Jonathan Tucker and Donnie Darko’s Jena Malone, as Jeff MacIntyre and girlfriend Amy.
There’s also some good work in here by Laura Ramsey (as Amy’s best friend, Stacy) and, as her boyfriend Eric, Shawn Ashmore, the younger Ashmore twin who plays Iceman in the X-Men franchise, not the one who plays Jimmy Olsen on Smallville (that one’s Aaron).
I’m particularly impressed with Ramsey, whose past work has been in some less-than-stellar fare like The Covenant and She’s The Man. She does a number of things in The Ruins I hadn’t thought her capable of, based on what I’d seen of her before.
If there’s an aspect of one performance here that could be a tad dodgy, it’s Anderson’s accent. But in the end, I’ve heard far worse, and for all I know, it could just be me, and Anderson’s accent is spot on.

At any rate, it’s partially to the credit of these young actors, who place believable characters before us, that the film works as well as it does, since—unlike in many a lesser horror film—we actually care if these kids live or die. There’s something very natural about the performances and the rapport between these characters that puts us in the middle of events as they unfold, that makes us sympathize with the dire situation they find themselves in.
And while Malone and her fellow actors rope us in and hold out attention, director Carter Smith and the other, apparently unrelated Smith (the writer, who adapted his own novel, though is credited without his middle initial as the film’s screenwriter) put all involved—particularly the audience—through a nasty cinematic wringer, the sort that makes you squirm and cringe, in very nice horror movie ways, mind.

It should also be noted that there’s some interesting work here by frequent Peter Jackson collaborator, production designer Grant Major, as well as some good cinematography by ace shooter Darius Khondji, who’s been DP for directors like David Fincher (Se7en and Panic Room), Danny Boyle (The Beach), and for the Caro-Jeunet tag team (Delicatessen and La cite des enfants perdus), as well as Jeunet in solo mode (Alien: Resurrection).
Think what you may of some of the films I’ve just mentioned (personally, I’m not a very big fan of Panic Room, The Beach, or Alien: Resurrection), but it’s hard to deny that they look good.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this ‘round these parts before, but I’ve always felt there are four saving graces in The Beach: 1) Tilda Swinton; 2) Robert Carlyle; 3) Virginie Ledoyen; and 4) Khondji’s cinematography.
Now, admittedly, The Ruins doesn’t have as potent a visual signature as some of the above films, like Se7en, for example. Nonetheless, it’s a well-shot horror film that actually does it work, and Khondji’s a part of that success.

As for anyone who isn’t familiar with the story’s premise, I’d prefer not to spoil the nature of the temple’s threat here, so I’ll just say this: if you, like little old me, love your horror, treat yourself to a walking tour of The Ruins.
Fun, fun, fun!!!

I’ll also leave you with this…
The Ruins has, as one of its executive producers, Ben Stiller.
Yes, that Ben Stiller. Derek Zoolander.
Now that, in itself, is a scary thought.*

Parting shot: Scott B. Smith also wrote the novel A Simple Plan, which, likewise, has a very good film adaptation directed by Sam Raimi.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of Raimi’s best.
In fact, why not make it a Scott B. Smith-adaptation double feature…

* Just for the record, I love Zoolander. Thus, when I think “Ben Stiller,” nasty, R-rated horror is the farthest thing from my mind…

(The Ruins OS courtesy of [design by Ignition Print]; images courtesy of

No comments: