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Ruins, The

dir: Carter Smith
[img_assist|nid=25|title=Feed me young Americans, please|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
Four hot young American kids on holiday in Mexico? Of course it’s a horror film. Why else do Americans in any movies go on any holidays, whether it’s Slovenia, Central or Southern America? To be killed, presumably, because every American knows that the rest of the world hates/fears/envies them.

Also, I guess it’s scarier for American audiences to think of themselves as the targets of the world’s attentions.

Our four chaps and chapettes here are just college age kids partying before heading back to their studies. Partying for them is like what partying for the rest of the non-American world is like: drinking and fucking. But they do possess a modicum of curiousity about tourist traps as well.

So when a German guy with an unconvincing German accent tells them of some secret archaeological dig site, they decide to go along for the ride, in order to do something ‘cultural’ before catching their plane back home.

Little do they know that they are mere fodder for some hellish example of history and evolution gone wild. Wild I say!

The German guy is trying to find his brother Heinrich. We know this because as soon as our German, a Greek guy and the hot teens get to a stepped pyramid in the Mexican jungle, the German guy starts screaming ‘Heinrich!’ continuously. Until he finds something which compels him to yell ‘Heinrich?’, until, in a much sadder way he whispers ‘Heinrich…’

Something strange is going on at this pyramid. Some gibberish spouting natives arrive immediately on the scene and surround the pyramid, making it clear that they don’t want the white people to leave the pyramid. They emphasise this by shooting the Greek guy with arrows and then blowing his face off when he tries to step away from the pyramid.

A simple ‘Hey, where do you think you’re going?” should have sufficed.

The ‘hot’ teens, who aren’t teens, really, aren’t as annoying as the ‘teens’ usually are in these kinds of flicks. The two guys, Jeff and Eric (Jonathan Tucker and Shawn Ashmore) aren’t morons, and are fairly resourceful. Jeff has enough medical knowledge to help out in difficult situations, but not so much that he has magical solutions to the quite horrible worsening situation that confronts our protagonists.

The two girls, who have been Best Friends 4 Life, probably not for much longer, Amy and Stacy (Jena Malone and Laura Ramsey), aren’t as annoying as girls usually are in these kinds of flicks, but they do get more annoying as their situation worsens. It’s inevitable, but in a horror flick, of course they have to put characters through the wringer, often literally. That’s the point, I guess.

The situation seems and sounds generic, but The Ruins does succeed far more than its modest origins and trappings would indicate it has any right to. The courses of action, as ill-advised or short-term as they might end up being, make sense and aren’t too off-putting, no matter how increasingly horrid and hopeless circumstances become.

The absolute creepiest moment for me, in a horror flick that doesn’t stint on gory visuals, didn’t even involve violence itself. The most frightening moment comes from two characters descending into darkness in order to find a ringing mobile phone. The revelation as to the source of the sound was more unsettling to me than all the leg amputations or I’ve-got-you-under-my-skin organisms and self-surgery with a hunting knife that we get to see.

In fact there’s a very good overall use of sound, which I thought worked really well. Not just within the story, which was hellishly creepy (in my opinion: I’ve spoken to people who thought it was a deal breaker for them), but throughout the movie.

The flick is pretty low-key, in that it doesn’t go for the ‘thing killing group of people one by one until final confrontation’ kind of dynamic. In a more compelling way, the flick more so puts its protagonists into a difficult situation and then watches them fall apart physically and mentally over its short hour and a bit length.

It’s interesting to note that in the novel this flick is based on, there’s no actual pyramid or actual archaeological ruins to speak of. The ruins of the title are, really, supposed to refer to the ruins that the main characters become before the end of the story.

Jeff, for all his intelligence, resourcefulness and medical knowledge, and hope that they’ll be rescued, is not immune to the despair that preys, amongst other things, on his friends. He holds out some tenuous hope that alternately, a pack of travelling Greek guys might come to save them, or that, because he and his friends are Americans, someone will have to come and look for them, presumably from the embassy, or the FBI or Interpol, or something.

It’s scenes like this that reinforce the false perception that Americans see themselves as the centre of the universe. As well, as anyone who knows any history should know, relying on Greeks to save you means you are truly screwed.

The strongest thing this flick has going for it is that its tension arises quietly, and the opponent is neither overwhelmingly powerful nor supernaturally persistent. It’s more the fact that they’re trapped there by people more than willing to kill their own children in order to keep the Americans on the pyramid, and to keep whatever’s on the pyramid with them contained. Human practicality meets raw human desperation, and horror ensues.

I have to say that as implausible as much of this might seem, and as unintentionally humorous as some scenes might be, I did derive a certain amount of creepy, creeping enjoyment out of it. I wouldn’t go so far as to pretend that I actually cared what happened to the characters (it’s not like they’re well drawn characters, they’re just grist for the mill, really). But it’s not like I go into any film wanting people to die, or to be hideously maimed, or to die as part of some cruel cosmic joke.

And I did want there to be a solution for these people. So young, so full of the promise of life. Who wouldn’t want young, hot people to survive a murderous menace in order to go back to the partying and semi-nakedness that they are accustomed to? In a movie that looked like it was calculated to be exploitative trash, it manages only one gratuitous sequence of hottie nudity early on. It was pleasing to the eyes. Later, when almost all of the characters are stripped bare by the elements and by the situation, it’s a different kind of exposure that they and we are experiencing, and they’re nothing pleasing about it. On the contrary, it just shows how raw and desperate their situation is.

Look, in all honesty it’s not like I could recommend it even to horror fans, or to regular moviegoers. Both sets of not-mutually exclusive groupings would find fault and much to dislike about the flick. But for me, having seen tens of thousands of these kinds of flicks, I can appreciate when someone gets it right and doesn’t give in to the temptation to go all sorts of absurd, or to have people pointlessly running around and screaming in order to look busy. I vastly more prefer the low-key approach, and I vastly prefer characters that don’t actively irritate me as they either survive or die.

As for the grim doings that transpire, well, that’s what you expect from a horror flick. There are few, if any, outs here for anyone concerned. When the Aztecs or Mayans or whatever the fuck they are killed a small child because of something that is thrown at him, I knew this flick meant business, and that there was little chance of the cavalry or a vengeful god coming to anyone’s rescue. Which is to the film’s benefit, yea verily.

6 times it felt strange listening to Greek characters talking nothing but Greek in the heart of the Mexican jungle out of 10

“Well, thank God we cut his legs off.” – The Ruins


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