The Ruins – review

Mayan temples ahoy!

As a fan of decidedly sub-par cinematic offerings, it is always a pleasant treat when something genuinely surprises me. The Horror genre in particular seems to be increasingly homogenous, with the audience pretty much asked to choose between a Slasher flick, a Creature Feature, the odd franchise of Torture Porn, or increasingly rarely, some good ole fashioned Psychological fare.

So, when I sat down to watch this film, I was already comfortably nestled in the warm lull of my preconceptions. A quartet of traditionally good-looking American students makes friends with a suspicious-looking, heavily accented German who quickly coerces them into leaving their tequila-fuelled holiday haven and to go on a short archaelogical expedition, following a hand-drawn map into the jungle. So far, so typical..

My only prior knowledge of the film was that once the plucky group arrive at their Mayan Temple, well, something was Alive and bad things would start befalling them. With that knowledge in hand, it would have been easy to slot the rest of proceedings into one of the four pigeonholes i’ve already mentioned. Turistas (aka Paradise Lost) had already pretty much covered both the Slasher and Torture Porn bases, not least of all featuring yet another group of naive young Westerners bravely (and foolishly) electing to leave Uncle Sam’s safe and secure shores, and the wing of his protection. The Relic had kind of done the Creature Feature-meets-South-American-Culture thing, and so somewhere between all these previous reference points, I had already mentally mapped several potential story arcs for The Ruins to follow.

It’s at this point in the review that I have to stop myself, as to say any more would be to give the game away, and I think this is a genuine instance where you would not want the film’s surprises to be ruined . . . .

What I can say is that the film is based on a novel by Scott Smith – his first novel was “A Simple Plan” which was masterfully turned into an understated and thrilling Fargo-esque effort by none other than Sam Raimi. If you have not seen that film, then I would urge you to, and if you have seen it, then I would remind you of the agonising choices and decisions the characters made in that film.. Add some nuances of Body Horror, the fear of being isolated and helpless, a truly original antagonist(s), and you’ll be vaguely approaching what The Ruins is.

The young cast all handles itself well, considering the gravity of the script, and indeed it was only as the final credits rolled that I realised one of the girls was Jena (Donny Darko) Malone. By and large, they all slot comfortably into cliched horror stereotypes though – a Med School golden boy, a Bearded Stoner Dude, The Big Breasted Blonde, and the Speccy Brunette.

So, I shall say no more, except that this film is genuinely creepy and unsettling: it doesn’t necessarily rely on big jumpy scares or set pieces (although you will jump several times), but a lot of the most effective cinematic horror happens off screen and allows your brain to fill in the gaps. With treats such as The Mist, [Rec], and this, 2008 is shaping up to be a very healthy year for on-screen horror, but then again, there’s always another Saw sequel primed for Halloween weekend to pull the average down!


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