Title: The Ruins
Novel by Scott Smith
Movie directed by Carter Smith; screenplay by Scott Smith; starring Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, and Laura Ramsey
The Ruins is only Scott Smith’s second book. His first novel, A Simple Plan, was a much ballyhooed work—and for good reason. Mr. Smith stormed on the literary scene with a successful, haunting tale of greed, paranoia and depravity back in 1993 with A Simple Plan, which was later adapted very successfully into a movie will the all-star cast of Bill Paxton, Holly Hunter and Billy Bob Thornton. After going over a decade with no new work, his 2006 novel The Ruins was long overdue, and perhaps received harsher criticism than it deserved.
The novel follows a group of twenty-somethings on an extended, post-undergraduate vacation in Mexico. Two American couples—Eric and Stacy, and Jeff and Amy—enjoy long days lounging by the pool and on the beach, drinking tons of tequila and cerveza, basically just being young, beautiful and free. They couples meet up with a German twenty-something, Mathias, and three crazy Greeks at the hotel. After hitting it off together, Mathias asks if the group wants to go on a day trip with him to meet with his MIA brother Heinrich, who has taken off to a dig site with his new archaeologist lover. At the urging of Jeff (med school bound after the vacation) to “get some culture”, the group agrees and they set off for the hidden ruins, armed only with a vague map left by Heinrich, a few snacks, and a bottle of tequila. The site is in the heart of a Yucatan rainforest, and very isolated—when they ask a taxi to take them to the place on the map, the driver remarks that it is a bad place (red flags should be going up here).
In any case, they make it. Hiking through the jungle, they uncover a hidden trail that leads to the site of the ruins—a large stone step pyramid covered in a tick, leafy vine and dotted by bright red flowers. A yellow tent flaps in the breeze at the top, and there is an excavation well dipping into the site…but no sign of the dig team, or Heinrich. Some local Mayans from a nearby village storm onto the scene, speaking in a dialect no one can understand, and brandishing guns and arrows. Amy, entranced, tries to capture the scene through the lens of her camera…she takes a step back…and another…and suddenly the yelling is even louder. The natives are incensed, and force the couples and Mathias back, to climb up the pyramid—making their point very clear by shooting the one Greek who made it out with them in the head.
What unfolds for the remaining survivors is terrifying. The Mayans won’t let the stranded tourists leave—and something very wrong is happening on the pyramid. This is not a happy tale, but how many horror stories are? With nothing but terror and death awaiting them, the worst qualities in each person surface. In his signature style, Mr. Smith captures these highly flawed, very human characters in a larger than life situation and lays bare what ugliness lurks in all of us, and what people will do when pushed to the edge of sanity.
The American tourists run into problems atop the ruins
From critic and user reviews around the web, The Ruins seems to have disappointed, garnering only a 66% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a miserable C+ rating at Yahoo.
I have to respectfully disagree with these negative reviews. The Ruins is, as Scott Smith wrote it, a horror story about humans. There is gore and there are some disturbing sequences (don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll thow out one example—the amputation of Mathais’ legs immediately comes to mind)—but this isn’t just some stupid, pretty-people-get-killed slasher flick. There is an elegance to the gore in this film—it doesn’t feel gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous (*AHEM* Mr. Eli Roth and your complete lack of subtlety or style). Early in the movie there is some nudity, as you see the beautiful Stacy getting dressed—which initially seems superfluous…but later this image is contrasted sharply with the horrors she undergoes both physically and psychologically—and it is a lingering comparison.
Reading other reviews online, many writers site the “monster” as being stupid. To this I say, HOGWASH. The monster is original, and terrifying. One user review actually recommended the craptastic turdfest that was the 2006 film Turistas over this movie.
The Ruins is a rare find in a film genre that is increasingly cluttered with artless, soulless gorefests (Hostel) and hollow splatter franchises (The Saw legacy). Every actor in The Ruins gave an outstanding, believable performance. I felt the film was brilliantly cast taking younger, less known names with considerable talent and surprising experience—Jonathan Tucker (of The Virgin Suicides and Hostage), Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Pride and Prejudice and most recently Into the Wild), Shawn Ashmore (from the X-Men movies), and with promising newcomer Laura Ramsey (who I loved in She’s the Man, also in Lords of Dogtown). Comparing this to the bland pretty actors from another recent horror release, Cloverfield, I cannot stress enough how overjoyed I am with the casting for this film.
(From R to L) Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, and Shawn Ashmore give solid performances
I highly encourage everyone to see the movie. Yes—this is another rare instance where the film surpassed the book (in my opinion, of course)!
Book: 8 Excellent
Movie: 10 Perfection. It is a rare treat indeed to find a horror film of this caliber. My first 10 of the year! You want something terrifying and original? Go watch this movie.