BD Review: Another Look at ‘The Ruins’

Today we posted a second opinion of Paramount Pictures’ The Ruins, which is now in theaters everywhere. Read on for David Harley’s mixed review. The film follows four American friends on vacation in Cancún, Mexico–Jeff, Amy, Eric and Stacy–who meet a German tourist, Mathias, and persuades them to join his hunt for his younger brother, Henrich, last seen headed off with a new girlfriend toward some ruins. The four soon regret their impulsive decision after they find themselves lost in the jungle and freaked out by signs that they’re headed for danger.
The Ruins
David Harley
2.5/5 Skulls

Usually when I write up a review, I always keep spoilers to a bare minimum. With this review for THE RUINS, that will not be the case. Not because I intentionally want to spoil the film for you but because I think everyone needs to understand where I am coming from with this adaptation of Scott Smith’s novel. I’ve sat here, trying to formulate a way around “ruining” the film for you but it reads very poorly. Be at ease though, I will give fair warning before I potentially spoil something. So, without further ado…

A few months ago, while THE RUINS was in production, I was told that I really needed to read the excellent source material, written by the same guy who penned A Simple Plan. After a lot of procrastinating, I finally picked up the audio book from the library late last week, not because I hate reading but just because it was the easiest way for me to finish the book in time before the screening here in town.

The book, while being good, was, I felt, nothing special. Maybe it was because I had been hearing really great things about it for months. However, I didn’t feel there was any meat to the story. Similar to the film version, the book tells the story of two couples on a vacation in Mexico. They meet a German tourist, Mathias, whose brother ran off with an archaeologist to a excavation a few hours away from their resort. Deciding that it would be nice to do something besides sit on the beach and get wasted, the four Americans go off with Mathias to find the site. Following a map that Mathias’ brother left for him, the group stumbles upon an offbeat trail in the forest, which led to the ruins. A group of Mayan Indians show up and start yelling at them to vacate the area. Our character’s have no idea what their saying, since they don’t speak the language and one of the girls, Amy, steps on a plant. The Indians instantly freak out and chase them up the ruins. The Indians seem pretty adamant about the tourists not leaving, as they are camped out at the base of the structure and will kill anyone who comes down. So, our characters try to formulate a plan. However, there is something very odd about the ruins. This might be a SPOILER for some of you (though I don’t know how, as the poster and trailer basically shove it in your face) but the vines and plants covering the ruins are alive. In fact, they’re man-eating.

The problem I had with the book was that although it was a great premise it wasn’t exciting. Since I listened to it on CD, I don’t know the page length of the book but I can tell you it took e approximately 15 hours to listen through. In my opinion, the story would have been really great if it had been about 8 hours long. There were just far too many pointless conversations about relationships and childhood memories, most of them being had by whiny characters. There were whole CDs dedicated to arguments, which I would’ve skipped through had I known there was nothing that drove the plot forward on them. I will admit that there were some very horrific and tense moments in the book but not enough to even out the story as a whole. If there was one thing that book really had going for it, it was a sense of hopelessness. (SPOILER) None of the kids make it out at the end, as the plants inside the ruins were inescapable. If they stay, the plants will kill them. If they tried to leave, the Indians will kill them. It was a lose/lose situation. (END SPOILER)

Now, THE RUINS ran 88 minutes by my watch which fixed the problem of awful pacing the book had. The pacing was, by far, one of the highlights of the film. For those of you who have seen Inside, the pacing is similar to that. It gets into the death and destruction almost right away. The inane arguments are kept to kept to an palpable minimum and the action is plentiful enough that I never felt bored.

The script, which was written by Scott Smith, is very uneven. A friend of mine, who is a very huge Sam Raimi fan, told me right before the screening that Smith had also adapted A Simple Plan, which he had written the novel for, and that while it was nominated for an Oscar, it was sort of campy. I’ve never seen A Simple Plan but if its anything like THE RUINS, then yes, it probably was. For example, the couples argue about how they’re going to escape and Jeff, the “hero” character of the movie, tells them that someone will come looking for them because “Four American tourists do not just disappear in a foreign country.” Now, the way the scene was presented, that was not supposed to be funny. At all. Yet, the entire audience erupted in laughter. I laughed too, not because it was funny but because it was pitiful. There were also a few “jump” scare scenes that the audience absolutely cracked up through. In fact, anything that was suppose to frightening (Not the shocking/gory scenes though because those actually worked) made everyone laugh. I want to state for the record that I am a huge fan of bad/campy movies but the reason those films work is because they work as a campy production on the whole. Whether its supposed to be that way or its unintentional, there is enough camp throughout the film to make that angle work. Here, it’s tossed in very randomly, not really gelling with the vibe the rest of the film has going for it.

The actors for the most part, seemed to do their job well enough. I’m going to single out Jena Malone here, because I’ve really liked every movie I’ve seen her in (Saved!, Donnie Darko, Into The Wild). To her credit, the source material called for her character to be whiny, wimpy and annoying. So, she played it well. Its just… I wish the character wasn’t so annoying because I wanted her to die so I wouldn’t have to listen to her mouth anymore. She was also written as the slutty girl, who cheats on her boyfriend. Its not that I find her to be unattractive, its just that she doesn’t carry that demeanor about her. To me, that was the most unbelievable thing about the movie.

The ending of THE RUINS is something that a lot of you are going to hate. This paragraph is going to be one giant SPOILER so skip past it if you don’t want to know the ending of the film. As I mentioned earlier when talking about the book, the theme of hopelessness runs rampant throughout the story, which is something I really, really liked. Not every story can end in sunshine happiness and flowers. THE RUINS was actually shot with four different ending, which means the film either went through a lot of re-shoots or they actually wanted this to be the first Pick-Your-Own-Adventure movie since Clue. Mr. Disgusting actually saw a different ending than I did and the ending he saw was very Hollywood (i.e. it set up a possible sequel). But, at least some hopelessness was left in his, which happened to be completely vacant from mine. The tribe of Indians in the movie are presumably just as old the plant life in the ruins. You get the feeling they’ve been quarantining people and the plants for a long time. They soil the grounds surrounding the ruins so the plants won’t spread into the forest and even the animal life don’t go anywhere near the area. Yet, two 20-something year olds outwit the entire tribe and Amy (Jena Malone) escapes. Not only does this not fit in with the experience the Indians have but it completely ruins the hopelessness of the situation. It ruins the best thing I thought the movie had going for it.

While THE RUINS might have many problems, it still kept me planted in my seat. If you’re a fan of the book, maybe you’ll like it. I wasn’t and maybe my pre-conceived notions about how disappointing the book was ruined the movie for me. The film has some great gore and some genuinely tense moments but I found it to be just as average as the novel.