Gooey. That’s how I felt after reading the book and it’s how I felt after watching the movie. This isn’t to say that The Ruins a novel by Scott Smith (writer of the brilliant A Simple Plan), who also wrote the screenplay of both films, is a simple splatter movie. On the contrary, it’s a dissection of the main characters (both figuratively and literally).
4 American early twenty somethings who have not a care in their lives and if they do they find a way to distract themselves rather than deal with it, find themselves in a dilemma in which they are forced to deal with something, that’s really quite horrific and unexpected, that pushes them all to the edge of their personalities and they end up doing more harm to each other than the incredibly deliberate something that they have to deal with in this film. You know they’re in for a bad time when “excavation site” and “not on the map” fall within a few sentences of each other.
When reading the book this past summer my only thought was – this would make a great movie. Now watching the movie, I thought – there really should be more to this. And it’s easy for me to separate the book from the movie as both veer in slightly different directions as they approach the third (or fifth) act and both do it equally as well.
The book would have made a great movie and does because it’s so visceral. Things that read a little hokey on the page spring to life and are really quite terrifying on the big screen.
So what’s lacking in the movie? It isn’t the well developed characters, because they are, and they’re very well acted. Jena Malone hits the tone of her character spot on, and Jonathon Tucker, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey follow the lead. The characters and acting give the movie and edge of maturity of it’s competition. The problem is the fact that it feels like its the cliff notes of the well developed characters, and it only feels that way as the film approaches the third act and the movie decides to rush towards its conclusion.
The movie doesn’t allow itself to settle in enough. We get the feeling that these characters only waited a couple hours on that excavation site rather than long enough to really have to worry about food and water. In this race against itself to the finish line major character flaws brought up in the first act that in the book drive the characters to really go at each others throats still exist here, but are paired down and then discarded by the end of the film.
One example of this is the fact that the Amy character burns easily. It’s something that’s made a big deal of only to get lost in the mix. Why is it even brought up in the first place?
You want a little more! Like 15 minutes more would have sufficed. You want her to burn under the sun while she’s waiting. You want them to really need water. You want them to get to a point in which there’s certainly no other better choices. But they don’t quite and it means a different ending. So, it works.
Certainly the events that unfold are terrifying enough, but the events become more about the events and slightly less about the characters struggles with each other and themselves. In the book, this is what made me squirm, how the characters selfishness and inability to forgive each other ultimately caused each others undoing. In the movie, what’s happening to them physically makes me squirm…really squirm
It’s a fair trade off, and one that’s just as effective. It merely comes down to a personality choice. To me the wrap up of two of the characters’ dilemmas is a bit of a cheat. Something that causes tension and drama is randomly withdrawn and everything is settled. That’s it. And it’s such a minor thing to complain about as images and moments of the film still make me cringe and shudder. The problem is when I see something get close, I would have preferred that it just made it all the way there.
This movie directed by Carter Smith has only one major flaw and that’s that it doesn’t trust the audience to enjoy the film (if enjoy is the correct word?), or maybe I should say “get” the film unless they see a woman screaming at nothing in the films first few moments. It’s obvious pandering to younger audiences. For me just a sweep over the jungle with ominous music would have been more than enough.
Otherwise Carter Smith has just enough patience as the something that plagues the characters in this book. And that’s what’s most frightening, the slow, ruthless pace of their antagonists. They wait and they’ll keep waiting until you snap. They may even push you along a little. The film pushes many of those same buttons but falls just short, and I mean inches from being a great horror film. Instead it’s just really well done and in comparison to most other horror films of our current time, that seems to be the best you can get. And I’ll take it.
I still get chills.
Though if you want a truly great horror film check out The Descent. Talk about characters that go after each others throats…and make sure you watch the original British ending, not the clumsy American one.