05 April 2008

Mooney at the Movies: The Ruins

"I wanna go back to singing Beatles songs." (DreamWorks)

The Ruins (B+)

Starring Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson
Written by Scott Smith (based on his novel)
Directed by Carter Smith

It's the scariest (to me) of set-ups: Stranded in the middle of nowhere, miles from help, no cell phone signal. As paranoia and dehydration set in, the blame game starts, and fear takes over. It's this terrifying jumping point that lured you into Scott Smith's novel, and kept you riveted for pages and pages (there were no chapters).

And only Scott Smith himself could properly translate his text to the screen, as he did so masterfully with A Simple Plan. Now, this horror film isn't on par with that gem, but in the pantheon of terror, this is one of the best, especially in this dreadful decade.

The cast, while not particularly revelatory, achieves what it needs to, which is make you feel like they're terrified out of their minds. And each is perfectly cast: Jonathan Tucker as the semi-fearless leader, Jena Malone as the worrywort, Shawn Ashmore as the jokester who begins to realize none of this is a joke, and Laura Ramsey as the easily-terrified blonde. But these aren't your typical 2-D stereotypes. While not as fleshed out as in the novel, you still, for the most part, get under the skin of these characters.

If The Ruins suffers from any problems, it's that it's too short. But in this day and age, anything beyond 90 minutes is "too long" and "not marketable." I think an extra 15-20 minutes at the titual hellish site would've amped up the terror. Still, there's genuine chills here. Seeing legs without flesh isn't an easy thing, but unlike the Saws and Hostels of the world, this isn't simply a gore-fest. Like any great horror movie, it knows how to manage gore and suspense. And despite some major changes from the book, including the ending, you don't feel cheated or insulted.

In a sea of mindless gorenography and soulless Japanese horror remakes, The Ruins is a smart, terrifying oasis. Seek it out, and hold on for a horrifying ride.

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