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The Ruins (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/8/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/4/2008

It has often been said that humor and horror are closely related and can be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Many horror filmmakers point to the fact that they include humor in their films so that the audience has a form of release -- too much horror can wear on the viewer. Having said that, anyone making a scary movie must be careful that the facets of the film which are supposed to be truly scary don't make the audience laugh instead. There have been too many unintentionally funny horror films to mention and this will kill the mood of a fright flick faster than anything. The Ruins is a deadly serious and brutal film, but there are elements of the movie which wander towards the absurd and may have some viewers gasping with laughter instead of fear.

The Ruins introduces us to couples Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) & Amy (Jena Malone) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) & Stacy (Laura Ramsey), who are vacationing at a resort in Mexico. While lounging by the pool, they meet Mathias (Joe Anderson), a German traveler who tells them about an ancient Mayan ruin which he is going to visit. He explains that this location isn't the typical tourist place and that it's newly excavated. Amy is reluctant, but the others like the sound of an adventure off the beaten path. So, the next morning they travel into the jungle to find the ruins. When they arrive near the location, they notice some children staring at them. Arriving at the base of the giant pyramid, the group is suddenly ambushed by a group of locals on horseback. The men are shouting at them in a strange language and gesturing weapons. Frightened, the group heads for the pyramid. Once there the locals make it clear that they aren't going to let the group leave. Reaching the top of the structure, the frightened travelers find it covered with strange vines. They also see a rope & pulley system which leads down into the pyramid. Realizing that they can't leave the site, they begin to look for ways to survive. Little do they know that the armed villagers are the least of their problems.

The Ruins is an interesting mixture of suspense and horror. Most of the film falls more into the suspense category. Once the group becomes trapped on the pyramid, the movie almost becomes a siege film, such as Night of the Living Dead or Assault on Precinct 13. The vacationers can't leave the ruins or they will be killed. Thus, they must find a way to survive. The difference between this and the typical siege movie is that no one is trying to get inside. The locals aren't concerned with the fact that the group is on the pyramid, they just won't live them leave...alive, that is.

The other main part of the story, and the facet which pushes the movie into true horror territory, is concerned with what is on the ruins with the kids. Just in case you don't know what the movie is about, I won't divulge what is happening here, but let me say that it walks that fine line between scary and silly. Some will certainly laugh out loud when they see what is out to get the group.

In order to combat this, The Ruins is a fairly rough film. Author Scott Smith has adapted his own novel for the film and along with Director Carter Smith (no relation), they pull no punches here. The Ruins is a violent and gory film (especially the unrated version, which runs 2 minutes longer than the theatrical cut) which has no problem depicting the aftermath of attacks and accidents alike. These scenes wickedly juxtapose the happy, carefree moments from the film's opening. The movie is also very frank in how it approaches the situation and the fates of the characters. To say that some incidents here are "soul crushing" would be an understatement, as the film is very bleak at times.

And that, as it turns out, is the shortcoming of The Ruins. Once the group becomes trapped on the pyramid, the movie becomes darker and darker in tone. The movie is no doubt manipulating the audience, as we say, "Why don't they try ____ to escape?), but we can only sit and watch their situation grow worse and worse. One could argue that the purpose of a horror film is to show horrible things, but there is such a thing as overkill. These scenes, which constitute most of the middle and final act of the film, also throw off the pace of the film, as we watch one scene of suffering after another.

The film remains watchable due to some very clever plot twists, and a few scenes which must be seen simply because they are so freaky. The Ruins contains one of the most clever concepts to fool both the audience and the characters which I've seen in quite a while, and I found myself unconsciously nodding my head in approval of this idea, as I was simultaneously being shocked by it. Some of the story may come across as familiar, but this mind-blowing shift in perspective will stick with you long after the film is over. The Ruins also takes the novel approach of having most of the action take place in the bright sunshine. That way, there's no place for the horror to hide.

The Ruins could have easily been another "travelers in trouble" movie like Hostel and Turistas, and in the beginning, it seems to be taking that route. However, the movie takes some novel twists and turns into something different altogether, and we realize that the horrors here are far worse than anything in those over films. Assuming that one buys the film's story, you will find a movie which offers some solid scares, and would have been far better if it hadn't gotten so self-indulgent.

The Ruins gets trapped with terror on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fantastic, as it's very sharp and clear. Again, most of the film takes place in bright daylight and there is very little grain to be had, and there are no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, but as one would expect in this kind of environment, they are slightly washed-out at times. Although, the image is never overly bright and the nighttime scenes look equally good. There is some video noise in some scenes, but otherwise this transfer looks good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track matches the nice visuals, as it sounds very good. The stereo and surround effects are nearly constant and they sound great. The location of certain sounds is important to the story, and this is well reproduced here, as the speaker placement matches the on-screen action. A few scenes provide nice subwoofer effects as well.

The Ruins DVD has a short list of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Carter Smith and Editor Jeff Betancourt.  This is an interesting talk, as Betancourt basically interviews Smith.  They talk about many parts of the film's production including the locations, the actors and the effects.  They also touch on the differences between the film and the book.  "Making The Ruins" (14 minutes) examines many facets of the film's production, such as the script, the cast, Director Carter Smith's background, the look of the film, and the location shooting. Author Scott Smith doesn't appear in the piece, but executive producer Ben Stiller does, and it's interesting to see him involved in a movie like this. "Creeping Death" (15 minutes) shows how the filmmakers created the effects for the film and how they tackled the challenge presented by the fact that most of the film takes place in daylight. We see the creation of the props, the digital effects, and the special effects makeup. Production Designer Grant Major talks about creating the set in "Building The Ruins" (6 minutes). The DVD contains three DELETED SCENES, which can be viewed with commentary by Carther Smith. One of these scenes answers the question, "Doesn't it rain in this jungle?" The DVD also contains an "Alternate Ending", which I quite liked, and the "Original Theatrical Ending" (which tells us that the ending of the unrated cut is not the same as the theatrical ending), which has a subtle change from the unrated ending which makes a world of difference. The last extra is the film's THEATRICAL TRAILER.

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought The Ruins to Blu-ray Disc.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at 30 Mbps.  The image is sharp and clear, showing just a slight amount of grain in some shots and no defects from the source material.  Given that the bulk of the movie takes place in bright sunlight, the lack of distracting grain is a good thing.  The colors are excellent, especially the yellows and greens.  The image is never overly bright and the action is visible in the scenes inside the ruin.  The image isn't quite as detailed as I would have liked, but there is a nice depth to the picture.  The Disc contains a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.2 Mbps.  The track offers clear dialogue and sound effects.  The stereo effects are very good, especially in the jungle, where we can hear all of the various sounds.  The "horror rumble" in the movie provides some notable bass effects.  But, the track is a bit light on surround sound, save for certain scenes and the musical cues.

The extra features on The Ruins Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long