Monday, April 7, 2008

The Ruins

This past weekend my friends Ben and Patrick and I went to see The Ruins, an adaptation of Scott Smith's horror novel. Queer director Carter Smith (no relation) does a fine job in his debut feature, which manages to be suspenseful, entertaining, and sick-- if not quite as palpably doom-laden as its source material. The story centers on four friends (including Jena Malone and hunks Jonathan Tucker and Shawn Ashmore) who join a German tourist (Joe Anderson) on an excursion to meet his brother at a Mayan ruin site. Once they arrive, though, they quickly become stranded atop the stone platform-- surrounded by Mayan villagers who will shoot them dead if they dare try to escape. Eventually they learn why: they're being quarantined, as the ruins are overgrown with a deadly vine with almost supernatural abilities-- and a hunger for human flesh. Smith's excellent book made this potentially laughable threat harrowingly real, but more importantly it conveyed the hopelessness of a nightmarish survival situation. The author's screenplay for the film is slicker and faster, which dilutes some of the tale's impact but still manages to make for an involving and disturbing ride. Carter's camerawork, pacing, and special effects all combine to make the various horror set pieces pop. He's also good with his actors, eliciting realistic performances from the ensemble (including newcomer Laura Ramsey) and giving the group a natural chemistry with each other. While Scott has switched up character elements and facets of the story, he has kept the main narrative intact-- albeit with the notable addition of an entirely new ending. This denouement had me on the edge of my seat, since reading the book hadn't given me any clue to how it would turn out. Ultimately I was satisified with the movie, though I would still be quicker to recommend the superior and horrifying novel.

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