Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Ruins: Movie Review #5

The Ruins (2008)

According to Stephen King, this is the best horror novel of the new century. As far as I'm concerned, he's a pretty reliable source when it comes to horror. I bought the book at the airport and finished it 3 days later - I haven't enjoyed a book like this in almost 10 years.

I first saw the preview for the film a few months back, and like all new horror flicks, I counted the days to its theater release. I was somewhat skeptical knowing that the plant was the killer (after all Primeeval's alligator was a major bummer, wasn't it?). Horror book to movie projects are usually a letdown across the board, but in this case, I was blown away. Scott Smith is both the author of the book and the writer of the film's screenplay - perhaps the reason why the film was such a fair adaptation. Although the film did not hold to the same psychological horror as the book, the interaction between the characters and the vine was dead on (no pun intended). I have never seen or read horror quite like this. I respect an author and/or filmmaker that pushes the envelope, especially in a genre so dependent on its cookie-cutter elements.

Plot: A group of friends "double date" to the site of Mayan ruins in the jungle outside Cancun, Mexico. They stumble upon a historical place of sacrifice, and are trapped atop the ruins by the local Mayans. They are then held captive by the vine that grows there; they discover bodies within the brush, and slowly start to realize that the vine has taken on a life of its own. It mocks their actions, copies their voices, and feeds off their blood. The vine is even able to penetrate their bodies and eat away at flesh. The details in the book are enough to make your stomach turn, and the gore in the film definitely does this justice. There's something unique about watching a girl peel back her skin with a dirty hunting knife to try to extract the vine slithering beneath the surface. The slow deterioration of the characters' mental states is the most interesting part of the book, but this seems rushed in the film. In light of this, both mediums make the grade for The Big Toe Blog.

Highlights of the film include an arrow to the chest followed by a bullet to the head, splattering Dimitri's brains on the jungle floor. My favorite: Mathias's legs being eaten away by the vine, and Jeff's decision to amputate his legs with the same hunting knife, burning the stumps with a heated frying pan to prevent infection. The contemplation on cannibalism, which makes for a very uncomfortable situation in the novel, is removed from the film, but plenty of gore effects make up for its absence. At any point in the novel you feel like the story could turn into a modern version of The Donner Party. I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the characters coming to terms with their starvation, and remedy the situation by eating their friends. With the movie clocking in at only 1 hour and 30 minutes, there was plenty of room to add this element if Smith had wanted to!

All in all, this was the most impressive book to movie adaptation I have seen in years - not since Pet Sematary (1989) or Christine (1983) have I been able to say that. Pick up a copy of The Ruins sooner rather than later, and take your girl to see the film like I did. And, when you get home, make sure you water your plants. Terror has definitely evolved.

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