Review Date: July 14, 2008
Released by: DreamWorks
Release date: 7/8/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Torture porn is growing. With The Ruins
we officially see the genre that Iraq built fuse with the nature attack film. Tourist meet plant. It is inevitable in genre theory, that once a genre becomes tired, it spreads its leaves to the more fantastical until it finally becomes a parody of itself, killing the genre until it is revived once more. With the disappointment of all things not the Saw
franchise, torture horror isnít the producerís dream it was a few years ago. Proving that Lions Gate canít release Ďem all, DreamWorks weighs in here with some chlorophyll gone berserk. All rose or all thorn, letís see.
Four people who werenít cast in Touristas
are chilling on a Mexican beach. Photographer in training Amy (Jena Malone
) has her lens fixed on doctor to be Jeff (Jonathan Tucker
), while bombshell and career trait-less Stacy (Laura Ramsey
) shacks up with scruffy and career trait-less Eric (Shawn Ashmore
). While working on their tans they run into Mathias (Joe Anderson
), a European (hello forced accent) with a solid sense of fun. Amy gets drunk and omg almost kisses him while Jeff is away, but Stacy steps in to save the day. More juicy, though, is Mathiasís under-the-table map to a sacred Mayan ruin.
Mathias tells the group about the ruins, and while heís only partially interested, the American need to explore the unexplored forces him to become tour guide. After running into a few Weird And Silent Indigenous People, they finally find their temple. Before stepping to the top though, they are harassed by a few locals. The language barrier prevents them from communicating, but guns speak louder than words anyway. After a sudden noise, one of the locals blasts away one of Mathiasí friends, forcing the rest of them to take shelter atop the ruins. Strangely enough, the locals do not follow, but instead circle the perimeter with firepower. Whatís going on?
Well, it turns out Mathiasí brother also got lost in these parts not too long ago. Could it be superstition? Things get a little uncanny when the group starts to hear Mathiasí brothersí cell phone ring from the bottom of the ruin. When they drop down, they discover that it isnít the phone thatís doing the ringing, but the vines that clinch to the temple walls. Theyíve evolved, and not only can they mimic sound, but they can also have a thirst for human flesh. Theyíll toy with you, theyíll eat you, theyíll send you into ruin.
Captivating for all the reasons you wouldnít expect, The Ruins
cuts through its gimmick to offer some pretty heavy moral drama. Just like Jaws
isnít really about a shark but instead the character conflict its presence creates, The Ruins
isnít so much about killer plants as it is the drama that happens in their presence. Truth be told, the carnivorous plants are probably the most underwhelming part of the film. So underwhelming that even the main characters seem to ignore it completely, or at least completely avoid destroying it in any way in favor of bickering and suffering. Itís a plant; pull it out by the roots and get on with your life. The characters donít though, because they have too much drama weighing them down, and thatís what makes The Ruins
one of the most refreshing horror films in a long while.
been more successful, Iíd imagine this film would have been called Passivity
for all its digs on the subject. The film interestingly sets up Maloneís character as a passive photographer, hiding behind her lens when the conflict with the natives comes to an apex. Feeling helpless, she snaps her camera as if it were a gun. A powerless act at aggression, but an act no less. When the moral drama starts to kick in that's ultimately what the entire film is about, standing up to make a difference, no matter how futile the effect. Like in Shyamalanís The Happening
, the normally passive plant life also take on aggressive characteristics of their own. No doubt pissed off at humanity just like every other animal, vegetable and mineral in narrative these days, it evolves to beat us at the thing we do best: violence.
Whatís it all mean? In a world where our technologies have made us passive, where cell phone rings or digital camera snaps are mimics of the real life sounds weíve become fragmented from the ďrealĒ world. Itís under such pretense that an otherwise harmless and passive plant is able to have its way with all humanity it touches. The fact that the entire thing unfolds on a historic landmark further goes to show our displacement from history and humanity in a digital age. ďFour Americanís on vacation donít just disappear!Ē Jeff balks, so isolated and self-important that he, and the rest of the group, show that even pre-med students have no grasp on reality.
The characters may not know reality, but the filmmakers here do, and they present the horror and panic that comes with death and fear better than anyone has in years. When one of the characters is injured itís one moral issue after another until the group leans more lessons than they ever would in school. The characters are totally one dimensional, but their nuance and reaction to each scenario seems as inspired and life-like as anything. Itís a testament to the filmmakers that a film about killer plants has probably the most realistic portrayal of people in horror so far this decade.
Hell, even the nudity is presented in a totally, erm, organic way. Thereís some beautiful people here showing some beautiful skin, but itís not just for show. Itís not a woman disrobing, turning to the camera, and looking away submissively while we gaze on. No, itís presented as matter of fact. You get out of the shower, itís hot, you change, you lounge. Nothing staged or important about it. Director Carter Smith does just what North America needs with his portrayal of nudity Ė making it seem so natural and nonchalant that perhaps someday soon censors will finally get a grip. Torture porn grows up, in every sense.
Even if The Ruins
sells itself short on both the theatrical and unrated endings, the weight of its drama, and the way it carves humanity in a world without it, makes it one of the more compelling horror films of the last several years. Itís not quite great, but if Eli Roth, James Wan, Alexandre Aja and Rob Zombie wonít force the genre to grow up, maybe Carter Smith will.
2.35:1, remember that? The Ruins
makes its Carpenter-esque character dynamics palpable with his scope ratio, enhanced anamorphically for the DVD. Not surprisingly, the film looks great, without any blemish, off-color or flaw. Itís progressive scan and beautiful, and all the lush Australian exteriors make it all the more vivid and sexy. On another note, even the extras look beautiful Ė HD videography really is a blessing.
The film is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that does the job. There arenít a lot of dynamic effects, but thereís a few that pack a punch when the jump scares require it. There are so little jump scares though, so the majority is character based drama, so for the most part this is a tamer mix than usual for modern horror films. Again though, with the quality at hand here, thatís no flaw.
is a good film, and itís also a good DVD. It has all the aspects youíd expect from a packed studio disc (deleted scenes, alternate endings, featurettes and a commentary) but yet the intelligence behind everything elevates what would normally be fluff to something very worthy of experiencing. The commentary is the first surprise; the director and editor donít normally seem like the most interesting dialogue, but editor Jeff Betancourt makes for an apt moderator, constantly probing Carter Smith with pressing questions. Smith responds with good insight, and itís really a fresh listen.
Next up are three featurettes. Each one runs around 15-minutes. The first details the making-of in general, the next looks at the effects and the final looks at the location. Each offers its own point of interest Ė the making-of shows that it wasnít just the director who had a good sense of the nature of the film. Everyone interviewed seems on the same wavelength about the psychological motivations of the story, from the actors to the production designer, and it really shows in the final film. The effects portion shows both the plant creation and the gore, and it was interesting to see how the plants evolved based on the camera tests. The last brings up the good point that because almost all the film takes place on the same set, it needs to be both interesting and mundane. The last featurette does good at showing the process behind it all. Watchable featurettes, for sure, and with Ben Stiller for extra zest.
Then we have the alternate endings. So thereís the one included in this unrated cut of the film Ė itís better than the previous feel gooder, for sure, but still sort of a cheap thrill. The other alternate ending though, is much better, adding a little more subtext by playing off our custom of using flowers as a serenade for the dying. I never saw this in theaters, so I have nothing to compare to when it comes to gore, but suffice to say that thereís a good deal of it here, and itís easy to see where it was probably added on in this newer version.
Rounding off the disc are some decent deleted scenes made better with the again involving (and optional) commentary from the editor and director. Thereís a theatrical trailer and some previews for other flicks, including Stillerís Tropic Thunder
. Good stuff.
is more than just your standard creature feature or torture flick. It takes the best motivations and pretexts of either sub-genre and buries them together for a film of growing moral drama. Everything in the film, from the characters, gore and even the nudity is refreshingly realistic. The accomplished image and sound quality help lend to the realistic beauty of the film. The supplements also shine because of all the smart people behind the camera that discuss their craft. Just when the torture genre seemed to be wilting, The Ruins
comes around and shows that the best parts about death and gore are the ethical dilemmas they inspire. Highly recommended.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A
Sound - B+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Commentary with director and editor
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary
- Three production featurettes
- Alternate endings
- Theatrical trailer