Friday, April 4, 2008

The Ruins

Scott Smith adapts his own novel for the screen, and maybe he should farm himself out for other projects because if he can do this good a job with a screenplay about a some dumb kids and a plant think what he could do for the countless other horror scripts out their which need some serious help.

Two couples (Jonathan Tucker and Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey) on vacation in Mexico learn there are more things to be afraid of than the local water.

A chance encounter with a German (Joe Anderson) leads the group on an expedition of a recently uncovered Mayan temple deep in the jungle. Despite the distance the group makes it to the temple only to find themselves attacked by a local tribe and quarantined for their exposure to the forbidden locale. Surveying the scene and searching for the archaeological team leads some of the members into the temple and to uncover the reason why the locals fear the place and will make sure nothing leaves the area.

Although the film really isn’t scary, it will make you wince. Instead of monsters or critters the only monster in the film is the unique vegetation which has overgrown the area. How each of the characters is effected by their circumstances is actually much more interesting than the plant itself, and, thankfully for us, it’s the characters and not the plant which are the focus of the film.

One of the interesting choices taken by director Carter Smith is to cast familiar, but not widely recognizable, stars for the film rather than complete unknowns. By doing this 1) the acting is better than expected, and 2) the audience can immeadiately feel some familiarity to the characters. I don’t know that I’d list this as a high point for any of their careers, but it’s not a complete train wreck to keep off your resume and hope people forget either, and for a horror flick that’s pretty good.

The film does fall back on cliché (it is a horror flick, afterall). These youngsters continue to make your typical horror film mistakes and continue to miss clues to what is going on around them. At times you may even start rooting for the plant, because it’s neither good or evil, simply nature weeding out the weak (and stupid). There’s something a little Darwinian about the whole thing.

There’s actually a bit to enjoy here. I like the different choice of a non-sentient vegetative lifeform, instead of an alien creature or monster, which forces the focus to be on the characters and not the effects. The film deals more with the reactions of the travelers to the events than attacks by some hidden threat. And, as in most horror films, these dumb kids are their own worst enemy. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but, for what it is, The Ruins turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

No comments: