Monday, July 14, 2008

DVD Review: "The Ruins"

I read Scott Smith's novel, "The Ruins" last year because I loved his first book, "A Simple Plan." It turned out to be an interesting and rather claustrophobic little tale with a rather silly premise (or so I thought) and was therefore not terribly interested in seeing the movie when it was released to theaters this past April. Now available as "unrated" DVD, I decided it might be worth a rent. I'm happy to say that I was correct.
The Ruins concerns a group of four young American friends vacationing in Mexico. There they befriend Mathias (Joe Anderson), a German whose brother has gone missing after following a hot archaeologist to a remote dig-site. Mathias convinces them to join him the next day in his search for his brother, and accompanied by "crazy Greek" Dimitri, they soon find themselves at an ancient (and verdant) Mayan pyramid, deeply hidden in the Mexican rain forest. The Americans - med-student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker); his girlfriend, Amy (Jena Malone); best friend, Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and his girlfriend, Stacy (Laura Ramsey) - are at first intrigued by the hulking relic. But when a tribe of hostile Mayans kills Dimitri and forces them all to the top of the pyramid, things definitely take a turn for the worse.

I don't want to spoil too much for those who haven't seen the movie (or read the novel), but let's just say that there is something very unpleasant living in (and on) the pyramid. Something that feeds on human flesh; can imitate a cell phone's ring tone and carry it's prey off into the night.
Smith also wrote the screenplay and while his novel was a little more complex than his pared-down script, especially when it came to character development, he doesn't skimp when it comes to out and out horror. Director Carter Smith, making his feature debut, wisely chose young actors who actually have some talent and who are able to convey the hopeless horror and desperation of the situation quite nicely. Jonathan Tucker's (In the Valley of Elah) Jeff, who tries to maintain a cool head and take charge of the situation, comes off as a real person who is genuinely concerned for the well-being of his companions. Ms Malone (Donnie Darko) as his girlfriend, displays the same kind of down-to-earth qualities of her previous characters, while trying to maintain her sanity amid the horror happening around her. Mr. Ashmore (The X-Men trilogy) and Ms Ramsey (The Covenant) are fine as two young people verging on the brink of madness.
And, while the basic premise of The Ruins is still rather silly, gorehounds and horror fans will find much to be enjoyed in the unrated DVD. While I'm glad I didn't part with ten dollars to see this movie in the theater, it is definitely worth the rental. ***1/2 (Three and a half Stars)

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