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Non-Review Review: The Ruins

The Ruins is a decent enough little horror movie. In fact, it’s a cut above the average mould. Eschewing the torture porn or the gratuitous slasher movies, The Ruins is – after a fashion – a creature feature in the style of eighties. It can’t hold a candle to the true classics of the genre, like The Thing, but it offers a perfectly decent substitute. What’s more is the way that – like all good horror films – it is able to generate pure menace from what should be a ridiculous premise.

Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Note: Towards the end of this review, I’ll discuss some items which might be considered spoilers. Nothing as glaring as the ending, but some stuff you might not want to know ahead of time. I’ll flag it a paragraph beforehand, so don’t worry. If you want a recommendation, it’s an old-fashioned horror which works like any truly effective monster movie: the threat is not just outside the group, but also within it. It won’t rock your world and it isn’t a masterpiece, but is worth a go.

To be fair, The Ruins offers little new. The initial setup is a laundry list of things that the State Department must start warning American tourists not to do. If a German offers to show you a tourist spot off the map where he has lost contact with his brother, don’t go with him. If the locals are hesitant to take you, don’t bribe them. If the path is deliberately covered up, don’t follow it. At least the movie chides its protagonists for their ignorance (“Americans on vacation don’t just disappear,” one asserts entirely earnestly at one point).

As the title alludes, the group of teenagers find themselves at the ruins which obviously aren’t quite as abandoned as it would appear. Cue neckerchief-wearing locals and frightened horses and a cultural misunderstanding which sees the merry band of travellers stranded atop the structure, with an abandoned tent and the eerie sound of a ringtone echoing from inside the structure.

The film is well directed. The film delivers as much tension as it would seem possible to draw from the scenario. The film is relatively confined, with most of the action set on the roof of these ruins. The CGI may not be the best I’ve ever seen – by a long shot, I’ll concede – but it does the job. Sometimes it does look ridiculous (there is a moment , but sometimes it is effective and menacing.

The movie smartly sets most of its sequences in broad daylight, which makes a change from the ‘creature in the night’ fare that is so common. There’s an unsettling quality to watching a horror like this play out in the tropical sun, something that we aren’t quite used to. The group dynamics that play out aren’t exactly subtle – you can pretty much call each cast member’s role in the ensuing drama off their initial reaction to the situation – but the cast are capable with the material. It’s significantly more interesting than most of mainstream horror over the past years.

Sure, there’s a bit of gore and carnage, but certainly nothing that could compete with the later sequels to Saw or the Hostel series. There is a fair amount of body horror, but it’s handled well. Your skin crawls rather than your stomach leaping. There is a moment or two that will make you wince, but most of the time the movie relies on suspense to maintain your interest.

It isn’t a perfect film. It probably isn’t even a great film. But it is an effective film. The entire premise does come with a warning: it is ridiculous, inherently so. But most horror ideas are. A lot of it lies in the execution. Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is a classic, but could just as easily be hokum. Paranormal Activity is a big idea on a tiny budget. The execution here is not so pitch-perfect. There’s no maestro behind the camera. It is, however, more than passable. I might even say good.

Now for the spoilers. But not really. But kinda. I won’t be discussing the ending. But I’ll be discussing a key plot point. You have been warned.

Still here? Good.

The movie is about killer plants. Remember when I reviewed The Happening and I remarked that the premise of killer plants wasn’t necessarily inherently ridiculous? That any idea can succeed in the right hands, if handled well. The killer plants in this film are a lot less sophisticated than the toxin-spewing mass murderers of M. Night Shymalan’s misfire, but no less ridiculous or impossible. They move and crawl and feast and prey and grab. They may even speak.

The concept has more than a few flaws. If it’s so smart, how come it hasn’t escaped the ruins yet? How come it doesn’t just gobble up the characters once they are stranded in its midst? How the hell does it grow so fast?

However, it’s still ominous. They do all the stuff that monster movie creatures always do. They lunge as the music hits a high note. They attack in the tent. They greedily snack on left overs. However, they also sit there ominously in the background. They are in almost every scene. Whereas The Happening never succeeded in dealing with the implications of this, the bright red flowers of the plant creature means that the audience’s eye is always drawn to it. It shakes every once in a while to remind you.

There are moments when the actions of the plant stetch the necessary suspension of disbelief, but the movie manages to avoid these more often than not. It helps that the main focus of the movie isn’t necessarily the killer bush, but instead the humans trapped surrounded by it.

It’s a solidly entertaining flick, which probably only really works because it wasn’t really hyped and just snuck in under the radar. It’s a step above your generic slasher movie, and well worth an hour-and-a-half of your time if you’re a fan of the genre.

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