Judge Clark Douglas is a mean green mother from outer space and he's bad (mean, green, bad).
Our review of The Ruins, published July 8th, 2008, is also available.
Terror has evolved.
Horror movies have not evolved.
Facts of the Case
A group of four college students (played by Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, and Shawn Ashmore) is on vacation in South America. They meet up with a young German guy (Joe Anderson, Across the Universe), who suggests that it would be pretty cool to go visit some ancient Mayan ruins nearby. "Yeah," say the kids. "It's the last day of our vacation. Visiting ruins would be awesome!" The visit to the ruins is not awesome. It fact, it really sucks.
Things I Learned From Watching The Ruins:
Stay away from ancient Mayan ruins. Nothing good can happen there, unless your name is Indiana Jones. If a local South American truck driver tells you to stay away from the aforementioned ancient Mayan ruins because, "It is a very evil place," definitely stay away.
Never listen to anything the German guy says. This is a lesson that movies have been trying to teach for a long time: Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, Zak Penn's The Grand…Germans are not to be trusted under any circumstances. Even if they are nice guys, they will undoubtedly lead you into some sort of horrible situation by accident. Also, related to this point, Germans apparently do not understand jokes.
Do not under any circumstances let your girlfriend get drunk. Odds are incredibly high that she will immediately fall into the arms of the nearest attractive German that comes by.
Do not pay attention to maps that tell you to go down trails that are obviously unsafe. Also, do not listen to the guy in your group who tries to rationalize this by saying, "The archaeologists just don't want us to find the treasure."
Don't make fun of the ancient Mayans. Even if you think they're all dead and that they can't hear you, making fun of ancient Mayans will come back to bite you. In addition, it's generally unwise to act like a jerk in any way whatsoever. For some unknown reason, this greatly increases your chances of death.
If a man comes out of the woods screaming at you in some foreign language, just assume that he's telling you to go away. If this man then proceeds to shoot someone in the head with a pistol, try to leave as soon as possible. No, really. Sticking around is a very bad idea.
If none of your cell phones is getting a signal, the German is not getting a signal either, no matter what he tells you.
Once you reach the top of an ancient pyramid, do not attempt to go down inside the pyramid. Things can only get worse. Hey, what are you doing? Did you not hear me or what?
Once you learn that a certain type of weed is evil and deadly, do not pee on it. Is that so hard? You will only make it mad, and it will probably try to kill you. Unlike the green life forms in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, these plants don't even need a reason, so just stay away.
Do not touch the plant that sounds just like a cell phone. It is not a cell phone. What good could possibly come of touching it? At best, nothing will happen. The possibilities only get worse from there.
Not a lesson learned here, just a comment. I hope I'm never in need of major surgery when the only help available is a dude with a big rock and a knife. Ow.
Try to have a three-dimensional personality, and also avoid being young and pretty. Odds are pretty high that you'll avoid being stuck in a situation like this.
The hi-def transfer is all right. Darker scenes tend to be a little bit too murky at times, and there's often not quite as much detail as you might like. Sound is strong, particularly in the sound design department. The film is pretty immersive aurally. However, the score is mundane and forgettable. Special features include a peculiar commentary with Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt, and a few featurettes. "Making the Ruins" (15 minutes) features some interesting thoughts on the film from the cast, crew, and Executive Producer Ben Stiller (!). Disturbingly, the director talks about how sexy he finds the girls once they're being cut to pieces. He also claims that there aren't enough "raw and violent" horror films. Hmm. Has this guy been to the movies lately? "Creeping Death" (15 minutes) deals with creating the freaky plants, and "Building the Ruins" (6 minutes) talks about building the pyramid set. Some deleted scenes include an alternate ending that is slightly better than the one included here, and the original theatrical ending, also superior to the one here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the performances and the plot in The Ruins are disappointingly routine and unmemorable, the direction is actually quite good. Carter Smith does a nice job of keeping the tension high; slowly modulating the scares rather than coming at the audience with both barrels blazing. The film reminded me a bit of Neil Marshall's The Descent. The characters here aren't nearly as good, and this doesn't have the same level of complexity, but it's still a fair comparison. I don't think The Ruins is good enough to merit an unreserved recommendation, but it's a lot better than much of the dreck being dumped into theatres from the horror genre these days. However, that's a statement about the genre's current standards, not the film's quality.
I suppose that I will always remain a little baffled at why the prospect of watching young and friendly college students get killed and tortured in horrible ways remains so appealing for so many people (college professors excluded). A film like The Ruins does not use its scenes of brutally realistic and mean-spirited violence to any noble, insightful, or artistically redeeming end. I suppose I ought to resign myself to simply accepting that it's just the way things are, and move on. Still, I can't get past the nagging feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with our society for films like this to thrive. Anyway, if you're into this sort of thing, The Ruins may just do the trick for you, as it's reasonably effective and engaging. Still, if you feel that the aforementioned lessons are not worth taking the time to learn, I suggest watching Little Shop of Horrors. It also has a killer plant, and it's a whole lot more fun.
Guilty, but we'll consider changing the verdict if the defendant is willing to sing "Suddenly Seymour." No? Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary w/Carter Smith & Jeff Betancourt
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