The Ruins (2008)


The Ruins, a grim, gory and pretty damn relentless horror movie that (quite simply) delivers the goods.

Paramount doesn't make a whole lot of horror movies, really. They made a lot of cash on the Friday the 13th series back in the '80s, of course (and they DID kick some ass recently with Cloverfield), but nowadays they're probably the lowest studio on the totem pole, as far as the horror geeks are concerned. That may be about to change (just a little) with the arrival of The Ruins, a grim, gory and pretty damn relentless horror movie that (quite simply) delivers the goods. (To be accurate, Paramount inherited the film when it semi-absorbed the DreamWorks company, but still: It's a Paramount release.) Sort of a cross between the 1950s era monster movies and the decidedly more modern style of graphic nastiness, The Ruins starts out on very familiar footing before settling in with a slyly unique take on some very ... agricultural material.

The plot is a simple thing: A group of six youths (two American couples, a German and a Greek) head off into the Mexican jungle in search of a missing traveler. It doesn't take long before they stumble across "the ruins," a massive Mayan temple that's crawling with forbidden foliage. Their arrival is met with much unpleasantness: A group of natives force our young adventurers to climb atop the ruins -- and if they come down, they'll be killed. But WHY? That's the burning question that viewers will demand from director Carter Smith and screenwriter Scott B. Smith: WHY do these natives hold the tourists captive? WHAT is it about the ruins that strikes such fear into everyone's heart? And WHERE is that missing friend, anyway?

To their credit, director Smith (a first-timer!) and screenwriter Smith (adapting from his own novel) keep the answers hidden -- up until the appropriate time, that is. If you've read the book, then you know full well where the danger is really coming from (hint: it's not the natives), but the movie (wisely) assumes you haven't read the book, and therefore The Ruins is one half a very juicy "slow burn" and one half a blood-soaked psychological horror-fest that feels a lot like something David Cronenberg would have directed 20 years ago. Because while The Ruins definitely has horror coming from "external" directions, the bulk of the creepiest material deals with the internal: Body horror, self-mutilation, the primal fear of parasitic invasion, and all that bleakly fascinating jazz.

And let's hear it for a straight-faced (semi-)big budget studio horror movie that arrives with an actual pedigree. In addition to Carter Smith's confident direction and Scott Smith's no-nonsense screenplay, the flick was shot by the fantastic Darius Khondji, scored (and scored well) by veteran Graeme Revell, and (really briskly) cut together by editor Jeff Betancourt. Hell, even the actors are surprisingly good, and you don't always NEED solid acting in a horror movie. It's like an actual bonus that Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, and Shawn Ashmore round out the ensemble; on paper, these could be paper-thin caricatures, but the cast does an excellent job of selling the set-up, the premise, and the inevitable geysers of gooey gore. And once all the morbid mayhem starts flowing, don't be surprised if you find yourself actually caring about these four poor souls.

The Ruins is a horror flick that wants to shock you as much as it does scare you, which means that some of the most chilling moments are presented in full daylight, in such a matte- of-fact fashion that you almost need a few extra seconds to accept what you're seeing. It's both craftily creepy (in a subtle way) and powerfully visceral (in a kick-ass way), plus it delivers its payload in a slick and efficient 91-minute burst of nastiness. The Ruins might not be the best "studio horror flick" in recent memory (that'd be The Mist, if you want my opinion), but it's an impressively harsh, unexpectedly dark, and admirably expeditious little terror tale. And yes, to answer the Golden Question: If you liked the book, I think you'll like the movie. Aside from a few alterations (which I'd actually call improvements), the flick and the book are pretty darn identical. (Which is good news because the book's pretty darn solid.)