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The Book
by Scott Smith
(In Paperback from Amazon)
. "The Ruins"

Since I read the book on which this way-above-average horror flick is based, I've never looked at vines in the same way--especially the ones that grow fast. And if they've overgrown an area, like they do on the film's ancient ruin, I'll probably beat a quick path to the safety of asphalt!

The DVD comes out with an "UNRATED" above the title, but that should more rightly be "UNCENSORED" for the bodily attacks and self-applied incisions to one babe's body--the mark of insanity imposed by the vine's bag of tricks to encroach on the human mind.

In my review of the book two years ago, I mentioned the movie deal that already had been struck, with a screenplay by Scott Smith, the author. And, all the terror of this original horrific concept contained in the book transposes completely and vividly with a superb set of actors and under the smart direction of Carter Smith. In fact, the entire production design parallels how it was described, with great precision, and exactly how I envisioned it as I read. Couldn't be closer. This is a rare case of near-perfect adaptation and proves the case for a major participation by the author in a book-to-movie transition, whenever possible.

(Last year's "No Country For Old Men" is another case in point in which author Cormac McCarthy functioned as a consultant to the film by the Coen brothers, who wrote and directed it with determined faithfulness to the author's work.

Most horror films involve a group of buff young men and nubile, sexy women getting lost and/or attacked by fiends and slashers, not always of this earth. "The Ruins" can be described that way, as well. The difference is in the cleverness and creativity of the threat, and that's where this one takes its place on a higher rung of the horror flick ladder.

Two couples, Jeff McIntire (Jonathan Tucker), Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are planning their last day of a vacation in Mexico when they meet fellow tourist Mathias (Joe Anderson) who tells them of his plans to visit an archaeological dig to see his cousin whom he hasn't been able to reach by phone. With the promise of ending their stay with an adventure, the group agrees to join him and all rise early for the jeep trip that ends on a well hidden dirt road in the jungle.

After embarking on foot, they spot two native children tracking them, who quickly disappear without a word. Continuing, their path leads to the ruin, a four-cornered adobe brick construction neatly intertwined by a tropical, ivy-like vine with red blossoms. Excited by the anticipation of their find, they're stunned by the sudden arrival of armed native men galloping into the clearing at the base of the monument demanding, in Mayan, that they go no further. As more natives arrive, Amy backs up to take a wide shot of the confrontation and steps into a patch of the vine. This changes everything.

Now, the Mayans start shouting, pointing their guns and bows threateningly, demanding that the group go up the stairway to the top of the ruin. They will no longer be allowed to leave the site. The boys argue with the Mayan leader, thinking it a misunderstanding, trying to reason with the native's obvious fear. As they try to be understood, Amy pulls a piece of the vine off herself and throws it. It lands on the Mayan girl. The reaction is swift and really frightening. Our tourists now understand one thing: that there's something very serious going on here, something irrational and mortally threatening.

Get it now!
  • Never-before-seen alternate ending (quite scary)
  • Original theatrical ending
  • 3 Deleted Scenes Commentary by Director Carter Smith and Editor Jeff Betancourt
  • Blu-ray edition contains all this in High Definition. Spectacular!
  • What a singular set up this is for horrors to come; how superior to the typical lost group entering an abandoned house or by the simplistic appearance of men with bags over their heads. At the top of the hill the group finds no one. The dig has been abandoned. There's a deep hole and a winch standing idle. There's a tent. Empty. And the one cellphone they still possess has no signal.

    But, soon, they hear a phone, and the ring is coming from the bottom of the pit. Mathias volunteers to go down, thinking that it's his cousin. But after a series of mishaps the source of the ringing sound is found not to be a cellphone at all. It's being produced by the vibrating stamens of the red vine blossoms. By this time, corpses have been found in the thick vine brush and our skin is crawling up our spine. Sound like fun?

    Writer Smith sees to it that it is, as any of hope of survival diminshes in a tight, edgily paced adventure with a bracing dose of creeping death. The soundtrack by Graeme Revell is subtly insistent, growling with subterranean bass timbre, piquing the tension and gut fear. Cinematography by Darius Khondji is textured and pro. The book is a must read and the movie a must see. Not just if you're a horror fan but also if you enjoy a well-fashioned, slimy mystery to get wrapped up in. It's guaranteed to crawl into your mind.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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