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The Ruins

Film Four Stars
Having read the Scott B. Smith novel (Filmstalker review) I was wondering how a Hollywood film could be made that conveyed the same suspense, terror and same pace, and yet still keep such a restricted view limiting itself to a few characters in one location.

However my anticipation was high as Smith also adapted the story for the big screen and he wrote the novel A Simple Plan which Sam Raimi made into an excellent thriller. So I sat down as the lone person in the screening room and prepared myself for Hollywood destruction. Wrong.

This is a brilliant adaptation and a superb horror film. When I came out I talked with one of the Managers of the excellent Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema as he was very keen to hear how it was.

He told me that he could see that I was shaken, and sure some of that was down to not having eaten that morning, but the film had definitely shaken and unnerved me.

To begin with we have a typical American on holiday opening, but you'll notice that the viewpoint is kept much closer to the leads and the pace is constantly kept on the go, even at this point. The other thing that's clear from the outset are the characters and the actors behind them. There's a more natural feel to them, a bit more relaxed, and a couple of lines even feel improvised and unscripted.

Needless to say it started well and had me drawn in. However let me backtrack and give you the plot outline first, and unlike the trailer, I won't include spoilers.

Plot.pngThe story is about a group of twenty-somethings who are taking a holiday, or vacation, in Mexico. So far it's been a beach and bar holiday, you know the type, and a couple of them are getting itchy feet for something more.

So when the two American couples meet a lone German tourist about to head to some off the beaten track Mayan ruins to find his overdue brother, their interest is piqued, and they're off the next day.

When they get there they find it deserted, and a group of rather unfriendly locals stop them from leaving. It looks like they're trapped at the temple without an escape.

They must try and survive until someone starts searching for them and rescue arrives. However they might not be truly alone.

TheFilm.pngAs I said, the film feels like it might be hitting standard Hollywood realms in the first few moments, but pretty quickly you can tell there's a different feel to it in both script and style. The pace is a big indication as the story doesn't dawdle on the set-ups too long. We need to know little of the characters and their relationships before they head off on their journey, and what we need to know we learn on the way, blended in with the journey.

This is perhaps the most surprising thing about the film, in that it relies on these characters and their relationships in tight confines of a small location, and yet the film doesn't overly linger on them. We get just enough of the characters to identify with them, understand their motivations, and believe in them.

Within a short space of time the characters are confined to the top of the temple, although they do occasionally venture down the steps a little or to and from the tents, however I never found I was bored or wishing for the action to move forward.

The pace is very well set out and keeps the film tearing forward, dragging you with it. Tension and suspense is kept high, again surprising considering the antagonist, the single location and the main characters.

Something else that is incredibly palatable throughout the film is the terror, and the uncomfortable factor of the terror. Make no mistake, this film did leave me feeling shaky and rather nervous. The acting, direction and the effects make for a number of a realistic and intense scenes, most notable is the horrific scene where the group help the character of Mathias.

I shan't spoil anything for you, but suffice to say that this scene is played and filmed perfectly and does some serious damage to your nerves as you watch, oh and there are a number of scenes that work just as well at shredding your nerves, and all without intense scenes of shock or gore that we've come to expect in today's horror films. No this one is much cleverer than that and uses brief glimpses and your own imagination to great effect.

However it's not all so great, there are two or three moments that feel as though the story has leapt forward almost too quickly. One such moment is where the characters have arrived at the top of the ruins and have just looked briefly through the tents for paracetamol.

Once that crisis is dealt with we see them relaxing a little and watching the events going on around the temple using a pair of binoculars which they must have received from one of the tents, then there's the radio they are sitting with which didn't seem to come from anywhere.

Now it's not really that big a deal, and it's actually good that we're credited with intelligence to not have to be shown everything, but you do get the feeling that perhaps there are a few scenes which show the characters exploring the tents more, finding all their provisions, dividing food, that kind of thing.

This feeling of missing something doesn't really affect the story, you leap forward with it more focussed on the characters and how they are working to stay alive. There is something that hits the film a little more and that's the first real surprise character death – now don't worry I haven't spoiled anything by telling you that, especially if you have seen the trailer.

You see the trailer shows the scene and kills the surprise, it's not really the film's fault, but those responsible for making the trailers have once again shown too much.

Of course it might also be that I'd read the book before seeing the film, and that could have deadened some of the surprise of seeing the strangers appear and their intentions for the main characters. However seeing one of them get killed as well as the lead in moment is a pretty big suspense killer.

Talking of the book I have to say that it was a great read and one that really had me riveted from start to finish, dying to read at every opportunity, and I was convinced that a Hollywood adaptation couldn't do it even the slightest hint of justice.

How wrong I was. It does a superb job of being true to the original story and compressing itself down into film timescales. It's especially impressive because it is so strong on the writing and focused on characters, relationships and dialogue more than action and visuals.

The feelings of paranoia, self belief and self doubt, the tension and suspense are all there, translated well, and without cutting too much from the story. You can feel a lot of it has been condensed, particularly the battle for water and warmth, and the slow erosion of their hope and their numbers, but it's not overly so.

I'm very impressed with the translation, but then I should be since it was in the hands of Scott Smith himself, the author of the novel.

One thing that I thought was going to be missing from the novel was something that Smith himself had said might not translate well to the final film – the ability of the protagonist to make noises. That had been something pretty strong in the novel, but I did think would look a bit strange and break the flow of the story in the film.

Despite Smith saying early on in production that this wouldn't be in the film, it was. I was right though, it did take me out of the film for a moment, but it's handled really well and you're soon right back in. The effect is also underused and is kept pretty low key, although still very effective.

Then there was the ending, the film is a little less bleak than the novel and it actually works really well. It also struck me the style reminded me of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original that is, and that's a good thing too.

Overall.pngIt's obvious that I haven't written anything that negative about The Ruins and that I'm definitely a fan of the film. It's creepy, scary, unnerving, tense, full of suspense, and carries great writing from start to finish. It's really the first novel adaptation that I can say lives up to the novel and does it real justice.

An excellent scary horror that relies more on script and characters than gore.

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Vue Cinema Ocean Terminal
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Filmstalker reviews The Ruins

This article was posted using 3G Mobile Broadband as part of a product review.



Hmmm sounds interesting. Saw the trailer for it awhile back and looks like any other bland Hollywood horror around although Id still go see it anyway) but from youre report it sounds pretty good and look forward to seeing it.

Yeah, I really did like it and thought it was something special. Saying that the book is much better, but isn't it always?

Yes the book is always better but then again there are some things that work better in a movie than in a book and vice versa. Its for this reason Ive decided there are some movies I just dont want to watch like Dreamcatcher, Ive read the book by Stephen King and absolutely loved it and theres no way they would ever show half the stuff thats in the book in a movie so Im not going to watch it ever. However the adaptation of Stephen Kings The Green Mile was very good and stuck very closely to the book which I read after having watched the movie.

Yeah Stephen King is a great example of how book adaptations can sometimes work and how they can often fail.

I think as a general rule they have to be taken as two different beasts and you have to accept up front that they can't be compared.

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