Cute girls bleed out too soon for the party to really get started.
It’s a thin line between a horror movie with all the nuances of a real movie and an endless sequence of blood dripping from bodies of the carelessly victimized in grotesque abrupt visuals that pains the senses into turning away.
One draws the viewer into the film, the other makes you want to leave. It’s a true art to attract the senses and keep it watching levels of violence that would serve only to isolate, if not for the audience’s empathy.
The bloody sausage of Horror is an interesting genre and there are many ways to slice it. Carter Smith’s “The Ruins” attempts to involve you with a good first third. The opener is a scary flashback frame of a single light shining down on a woman that is obviously trapped and in fear of her life, yet strangely this scene never returns.
A quick cut to four recovering drunken college vacationers by the poolside of a safe and secure Cancun hotel.
It’s a good setup scene, the bland youthful characters interact well, clean natural script writing, decent acting, and some subtext, though one dimensional. Slide in an emotionally mature German male, Mathias (Joe Anderson) an archeologist, who stimulates the couples into visiting a hidden Ruins that even the natives stay away from and you get a recipe for bad news with a side of painful death. You get to know the characters well in the first half hour, the exposition is tight and the interaction of the couples realistic feeling. They’re likable, all the more effective for when they get run through the genre grinder.
Jena Malone convincingly creates the insecure Amy, and Stacy’s (Laura Ramsey) brief nude scene is much appreciated and serves to enamor the audience and bring some realism to the turn of events. Jeff (Tucker) relishes his, “I’m going to be a doctor, demeanor and verbiage to little effect while Eric (Ashmore) whining could have been served up by any actor with more verb.
The crews of vacationers travel deeper into the jungle towards the Ruins and the usual heavy handed warnings of death and doom are suppressed and expressed in a more natural manner. A taxi driver refuses to take them to the Ruins, but immediately changes his mind when the American flashes dollars in his face. No over the top warnings, just plain old fashion, “take the money and drive the stupid Americans to their death” subtext. It’s simple yet powerful and allows the suspense and interest to accumulate.
Dropped off near the Ruins, children stare ominously at them. Is this omen enough? No. The children never say anything. No vocal warning, only staring. One runs away, obviously to bring help later.
I like the initial pacing, the build up and the acting, despite the obvious children staring at the Americans. A warning from the kids here, though a cliche would have fit with a more realistic turn of events. With the boyfriend’s stubborn motivations pushing the couples into danger, it would have added to the pathos of their dilemma.
Abruptly at the Ruins a small crew of locals arrive with bow and arrows and guns, their full intent isn’t clear at first but it’s obviously fearful and violent. Fast cuts and the withholding of information make the scene compelling and you can feel the violence about to happen. When one of the kids is struck by an arrow and then has his face blown off, it’s brutal.
Now it’s obvious the locals want the students to stay on the Ruins. They are being quarantined on top the Ruins to die a gruesome death.
At this point the script begins to fail. There just isn’t much to do on the top of the Ruins, it’s too small a theater to fulfill the promise of the opening scenes, though they descend into a well like opening via ropes. Mathias is quickly badly injured by a fall when the ropes predictably break. Bad timing and bad writing, since others had descended and the rope held up. These types of coincidence are always draining to a film’s energy.
And with Mathias completely out of the picture there is little charisma to churn your attention.
Though the casting is decent, there is little for the cast to do but die in the small open pinnacle of the temple Ruins and the likability of the characters quickly die also.
Slowly the students begin to figure out that the vegetation on the Ruins are carnivorous or maybe they merely like to grow inside humans, it’s never made clear. The vines can move, they seek out blood and wounds to enter the human body, a condition that must be contagious and irrevocable or the locals would have let them escape this ugly fate. The device seems poorly handled and very grade B style, yet perhaps that is the desire or budget constraints.
There are some gory moments of flesh cutting (torture porn style) and the nasty feeling you get when you think about something alive inside you, crawling, eating away at you and your sanity.
But the film never rises to the level of the promising opening scenes and good intentioned characterization and is bled out all too easily from such a limited scenario of doll like victims led to death by their own vacant lives.
So one by one the crew is infected, killed or driven insane. It’s impossible to care about these people and the ensuing horror is empty and reduced ugly visuals hardly worth viewing. Finally in a bid for escape one of them creates a distraction, sacrificing his life so that his girlfriend can run to the Jeep and escape.
She escapes and the movie is over. That’s it? Is she infected? Does she go to a hospital and get help? Do the locals hunt her down?
For such a dedicated group of locals, this hardly seems likely but more importantly this is an obvious tact they should have done form the beginning easily bypassing their fate and returning to plush hotels. In fact it actually was suggested and discarded early on, only to become credible after half of them are dead?
Now that’s horrible. While there are some good scares, it bleeds out fast and dies. Skip this movie and rent Scream again, you’ll enjoy it far more.