Directed by Carter Smith
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 93 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: July 8, 2008
Review Date: June 29, 2008
Horror films can go so wrong so easily, so it’s to the credit of the makers of The Ruins that so many pitfalls were avoided in order that a quality scare picture could emerge. Yes, it’s incredibly graphic, but the gore is not gratuitous, and while I usually have a knee-jerk reaction to heaps of blood in slasher films, this movie earns its crimson colors honestly. What’s even better is that while there is an evil force at work in the film’s story, the worst monsters are actually within the intended victims. They are their own worst enemies as their fright and their desperation grows monumentally as their ordeal wears on. They are, in most cases, the masters of their own demise.
Two friendly couples spending a Mexican vacation together get the bright idea on the day before their holiday ends to visit some interesting Mayan ruins some eleven miles away from their vacation beach resort. Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) along with new friends Mathias (Joe Anderson) and Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas) who know the way to the local pyramid get to the site only to be accosted by a hysterical Mayan local (Sergio Calderon). Brandishing a gun and joined quickly by other Mayans from his village, the man forces the young people to flee to the top of the ruin where many curious and ultimately frightening discoveries await them. And with the villagers on guard at the foot of the pyramid, they realize they’re stuck there until friends or family come looking for them.
Scott B. Smith has written the screenplay for the film based on his best selling horror novel, and it‘s a generally well constructed tale of ever-increasing terror as one thing after another goes wrong for our protagonists. As their realization grows about what’s happening and the horrific events begin to unfold in ever multiplying dire seriousness, writer Scott Smith and director Carter Smith keep things moving relentlessly even if the direction has to gloss over some silly bickering and a lack of trust among individuals who supposedly love one another.
The cast of fresh faces do good jobs with the roles they’ve been handed though of the four principals, Laura Ramsey’s Stacy seems the weakest and least effective. Joe Anderson’s German accent has a bit of come-and-go to it as well, but the other two male leads, Tucker and Ashmore, both provide sturdy support and embrace the physicality of these parts. Jena Malone also makes a valiant effort at balancing her fear and her courage.
The production design of the central location has been brilliantly realized by designer Grant Major. There is never a single clue that this isn’t Mexico (though the film was produced in Australia). Special effects which include some CGI but not heavily so are more effective than I would have imagined. There are several brilliant shock moments where a combination of good acting, good film editing, and effective music unite to create that “boo” effect that all horror movies strive to attain. While The Ruins may not be awash in them, there are certainly enough to deem it a modified success.
The Panavision 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio is delivered in a high quality anamorphic transfer. Black levels are strikingly deep in this transfer (all the better for several shock scenes), and despite occasional crush, you’ll find more than adequate shadow detail. The bright photography of the opening shore scenes might be a tiny bit contrasty, but otherwise, the film’s sharpness, color saturation, and fine details are well delivered. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is very well done with effective use of discreet sounds in all available channels and some extremely deep LFE. I found some dialog occasionally hard to discern when effects and music get a bit shrill, but for the most part, this is a very active and enjoyable sound mix.
Director Carter Smith and film editor Jeff Betancourt take part in an enjoyable audio commentary. And thank goodness for Betancourt since he continually asks Smith questions to prompt some talking from him. Smith unfortunately has a habit of adding “you know” after every few words of speech, but aside from that nervous habit, his and Betancourt’s stories of the production are a fun listen, and there are only a few noticeable gaps where the movie diverts them from talking.
Thanks to Dreamworks for producing all of the bonus featurettes in anamorphic widescreen.
“The Making of The Ruins” is a 14 ½-minute overview about how the director got chosen for the project, the differences between the book and screen versions, how the set was constructed to allow room for the cinematographer and his crew, and the selection of the Australian location and which sets were done on a studio soundstage.
“Creeping Death” is an enjoyable 15-minute summary on the decisions made about the film’s unique monster, information on how much of what we see are props and how much is CGI, and also a discussion of the prosthetics used in the movie.
“Building the Ruins” shows how the real life locations were built in a 6 ¼-minute featurette which should have been a bit longer to cover adequately the intricacies of the major set of the movie.
5 deleted scenes are included on the disc (which includes the original theatrical ending and an alternate ending), four of which have commentary by Smith and Betancourt which can be turned on or off.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 1 ¼ minutes.
The disc also offers previews for Tropic Thunder, Stop-Loss, and Iron Man.
Certainly not the greatest horror movie ever made, I was really pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of The Ruins. Its brief running time, heartfelt performances, and workmanlike direction go together to make an effective little fright picture.