Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Ruins **1/2

Director: Carter Smith
Cast: Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson

"Four Americans on vacations don't just disappear" says Jeff (Tucker). He's talking to his girlfriend Amy (Malone) and his friends Eric (Ashmore) and Stacy (Ramsey) to try and make sense of what's happening to them.
While on vacation in Mexico, they meet Mathias (Anderson) a German tourist who invites them to a mysterious archaelogical site, off the maps, where his brother is working.
After convincing themselves that they should be doing more than downing cockatils at the pool, they all go. Once they arrive at the ruins they are surrounded by Mayan descendants with weapons that threaten to kill them if they leave the ruins.
After discarding the idea that these people are acting like crazy killers they realize that they're being kept there in order to contain something that lurks within the ruins.
Feature film debut by director Smith, this is the rare horror movie that is able to scare because of what's not being said or shown, as opposed to relying on gore, blood and extreme violence.
While other directors working in the genre feel like sadists who actually have fun making their characters go through hell, Smith knows that audiences have to empathize with the characters in order to feel for them.
And he tries his best to give them personalities, even though they always remain vapid. His direction is precise and never relies on cheap tricks to get your heart racing.
But the film is a collision of opposing forces, on one side we have the director who sometimes seems to care too much to show us what's going on and then there's the writer, Scott B. Smith who adapted from his own novel and sometimes feels as if he's saying these people deserve what's going on with them.
The screenplay is structured in such a way that at first we begin to think that it'll be yet another "pretty people in danger" story, but slowly as smith peels the layers, we end up with pure psychological terror rooted on misconceptions Americans have about the rest of the world.
With a dark sense of humor and some absolutely witty lines Smith exposes a dual mode of thought (subconscious mostly) which tells us that the characters probably needed this terrifying rush to justify their trip and get their money's worth.
But at the same time, when something bad happens, it proved to them that they were right all along and nothing good can come from an "uncivilized" country.
With an ambiguous mix of cheesy B movie-ness and exploration of complex themes, "The Ruins" may not be exactly the world's ninth wonder, but you're gonna want to excavate to find what it hides.

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