It All Happens In The Dark

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The Little Mayan Ruins of Horror (or How Even Killer Vines Have Their Own Ringtones Now)

The Ruins (2008)

Oh, The Ruins! You could have been a contender. You were based on one of my favorite novels of the 2000s and in my opinion one of the best horror novels ever – really, you should read it! And your screenplay was even adapted by your own original author! And the dude who directed the lovely, twisted Bugcrush helmed you. So what the hell happened?

The most entertaining aspect of my Ruins going experience was hearing the sarcastic remarks my friends made. Which makes me happy I have such witty friends, but disappointed that the movie wasn’t more clever on its own. Come on horror, I expect something from you – I can’t always have my wacky pals around to lend support when you lag!

One of the reviews I read upon this film’s initial release said that this is the best adaptation of the novel we would ever probably be able to expect from the Hollywood system and to that I say – ESCAPE FROM L.A.! I love John Carpenter you see… and… AND how cool would this have been if it had been given to some indie French director to noodle with? Those French, they know their horror.

But really, the more I think about this film the less I like it. As I’ve said, the novel was spectacular, one of the few pieces of fiction that has ever been able to actually unnerve and sicken me – I still have trouble re-reading some of the later passages without squirming. Seriously, have you picked up a copy yet?

Alas, much was changed from the source material. The novelist and screenwriter Carter Smith said in interviews he wanted to streamline the story and mix things up for those who were fans of the book so they could be surprised too. Initially this seemed like a rather thoughtful and not bad idea, but I quickly came to realize that so much of what I liked about the story was missing. But it isn’t just fans of the novel who are dealt a major disservice by all of the alterations, the film’s audience are being denied the superior and immensely more frightening tale that was presented in the novel.

In the book everything happened for a reason – it is a tightly coiled chain-reaction of horror with nothing out of place, motivations and actions making sense. But Carter Smith the screenwriter (as opposed to Carter Smith the novelist) seems to have only minimal knowledge of what the novel was actually about or what made it work. He scraps whole personalities, grafts new ones onto characters who are now the opposite of what they once were, in effect he gives us ciphers with no inner lives instead of characters with just the right amount of shading and development to satisfy and make us actually care about them. The characters in the film seem to operate on only one level, and that is the same level that the characters in the Friday The 13th films operate on: to suffer and to be picked off one by one. (Hey, I’m not hatin’! I love those zany Friday The 13ths! Just not the remake.) Elements from the novel that are included are incorporated so haphazardly and at such wrong moments that it all flies by without making much of an impression.

I realize that when you’re watching a movie, you lack a lot of the basic advantages reading a book allows you when it comes to understanding and empathizing with characters and their predicaments. Film doesn’t easily afford access to the character’s thoughts, thus we must rely on the actors and the screenwriter/s to create tangible personas. The performers acquit themselves well to their roles and do the most they can with the material (especially Laura Ramsey who is the stand out) but almost everything that made me care about any of this in the first place has been stripped away. The basic story is still compelling enough to warrant a viewing, and the film is crisply and adequately made. Maybe this is the version of The Ruins that Smith always wanted to write. But it isn’t the version I wanted to see. C+

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