Ruins, The (US - BD)
For his trip to Mexico Gabe packs: a swimsuit, bottled water, and weed killer
On their last day of pre-college summer vacation in Mexico, a group of beautiful young people decide to follow a mysterious German lad to a previously undiscovered Mayan ruin. When they arrive they’re greeted by a group of hostile natives who chase them to the top of the ruin’s pyramid, where they’re left to rot. Soon fears of starvation subside when the kiddies realize the plants around them aren’t particularly friendly.
Is the general public simply ‘done’ with hard horror for the time being, or was The Ruins just poorly advertised? Based on the returns of other horror flicks, and the generally low public awareness, it was likely a bit of both. Even as a horror fan I’ve been generally disinterested with most recent Hollywood genre offerings, and the weak sauce trailers didn’t help at all (it looked like another Hills Have Eyes). I didn’t think the film’s paltry $22 million haul was any reason to be sad at the time, but now that I’ve actually seen the film I want to do everything in my extremely minimal power to change that figure with video release revenue.
The Ruins is not a masterpiece, and it won’t change the way you anyone looks at genre, but it might be the best film of its kind since Neil Jordon’s The Descent (which the cover art is obviously trying to evoke). What we’ve got here is a straight-faced and potent mix of the ever popular ‘pretty youth in peril’, and ‘malevolent monster’ motifs. Director Carter Smith and writer Scott B. Smith (no relation) don’t have a wacky gimmick like Cloverfield, they don’t have an original story telling motif like The Host, and they don’t fill the cracks with thick layers of direct or obvious homage like Wolf Creek or the Hostel films. There’s a hair of sociological undercurrent behind casting American and European protagonists and pitting them against an antagonistic Latin American entity, but we aren’t talking the distinct levels of social and political explorations of The Myst or the Hostel films.
The Ruins is not an entirely original film on character or plot levels, but there’s enough intrigue and surprise to likely keep most terror fans watching. The kids are archetypes, and the words they speak seem rather trite at times, but they’re believable, as are the majority of their actions, based on the minute amount of development we’re given in the film’s first dozen minutes. More importantly, I found them personally relatable, even when they’re doing unlikable things. The script has a pleasantly surprising habit of covering the minor inconsistencies and plot holes lesser b-horror quickies would likely ignore. These hole-fillers are a bit on the convenient side, but one learns to appreciate intelligence in straightforward horror where they can find it.
I'm positive that some of these images are going to be unshakable for the more weak stomached home audience. As stated, I didn’t see the film in theatres, so I can only guess at the differences are between the R and unrated versions (besides the alternate ending), but this ‘uncut’ version is a satisfyingly gory concoction. Those happily disturbed by the malevolent bacteria of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, or the revolting mutations of Kei Fujiwara’s Organ should be satisfied with these scenes of vineal (it's a word) infestation. It’s nice to have someone fill the void left by David Cronenberg’s recent focus on movies that aren’t about outward body mutation and mutilation.
Again, The Ruins isn’t a terribly innovative film, but it takes an unusual approach to its horror and gore elements—they’re almost all shot in harsh sunlight. There are a few sequences of deep, dark terror when the kiddies take a few trips into the catacombs of the ruins, but for the most part the ick takes place out in the open. The transfer is slightly washed out, likely on purpose, but not as high contrast as too many recent Latin American features like Traffic, Babel, City of God and Borderland. These are all good-looking films, but I’m a little sick of the look. The colour pallet of The Ruins is equally warm to those films, but again, less extreme, more natural. The greens of the vines and the forest surrounding the ruins are super lush, but don’t pop unnaturally. Details are very sharp, sharp enough to really test the special effects (which sometimes fail a bit under such scrutiny). The frame is pretty grainy, but not too noisy. The biggest issue with the transfer, or the only one I really noticed on my 42 inch set, was the occasional white level flare out, which leads to some choppy edges.
The majority of The Ruins is dialogue centric, with mostly subtle tremors of natural surround effects, but there are some moments on this Dolby TrueHD that really standout. The evil plants blossom flowers, which can mimic the sounds around them, and at one particularly devastating moment, they start copying the screams of a female character. The rear and stereo channels really come alive in this moment, yet the sound isn’t distorted. Other effective surround moments appear when the campers take trips into the pyramid’s hole, but for the most part things are pretty low key. The score is a bit generic, but doesn’t draw too much unwanted attention to itself, and does offer a solid undercurrent to the winding horror.
Everything begins with an audio commentary featuring director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt. Neither commentator seems particularly prepared, but Betancourt takes a bit of a command and tends to ask Smith decent interview questions. There are some big blank spots, but for the most part things are pretty consistent. For me the track acted mostly as an insider’s guide to the novel, which I’ve never read.
‘Making The Ruins’ is mostly made up of a lot of actors, directors and producers (yes, that Ben Stiller was a producer) talking about how special their picture is, but it’s pretty informative for what basically amounts to an EPK. The interviews are coupled with film and on set footage, and the featurette itself is well structured, and divided into sequential sections. It’s not fantastic, but I did learn about the search for director Carter Smith, some of the differences between the book and film, and how to shoot Australia for Mexico. The featurette runs over fourteen minutes.
‘Creeping Death’ is a slight but fun featurette about the evil vines themselves, covering their basis in reality, design, construction, and the roll of CG effects. Honestly I thought the majority of the plants were real, making me a naïve sap. The latter half of the featurette is concerned with the film’s convincing gore effects, which even out of context are pretty freaking icky. This featurette is about fifteen minutes.
‘Building The Ruins’ is a slightly dull look at the design and construction of the film’s main ruin set. I’m very, very happy that the producers and designers decided not to go with the book’s original description of the ruins, which was apparently just a mound of earth. This one runs over six minutes.
Next we’ve got three deleted scenes and two alternate endings. The first scene is a brief sequence of our heroes sharing food and water while hoping for rain, which was deleted for pacing, but perhaps could’ve stayed in to better express the amount of time the characters are trapped. The second scene is a follow up night-time sequence, which really would’ve only added seeds of bad teen horror clichés. The third scene is a character beat that comes right before the finale, which is nice, but unnecessary. The first alternate ending starts the same as the unrated version, and closes with a funeral. The second alternate ending is the one that graced theatres, which is far less satisfying then the unrated cut’s ending. The scenes run about twelve minutes total, and are presented in high definition widescreen, with Dolby Surround sound, and optional director and editor commentary.
Everything ends with the original trailer, which doesn’t sell the film for crap.
Horror fans: please see The Ruins. Let the studios know we care about nominally intelligent and serious horror, not about the same tired Asian remakes. This isn’t an earth-shatterer, but it’s an effective flick, and pretty re-watchable. The Blu-ray disc features a stunning transfer and a fair amount of decent extras. I can’t make any guarantees, but I think most of the people looking for the right thing will be satiated.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 8th July 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Extras: Director/Editor Commentary, 'Making The Ruins', 'Creeping Death', 'Building The Ruins', Deleted Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Carter Smith
Cast: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, Shawn Ashmore, Joe Anderson
Length: 93 minutes
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