BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
OCTOBER 1, 2020
“It does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches in 1975.”— Stephen King (about the book)
When “The Ruins” first came out in 2008, I didn’t like it. To pinpoint my dislike for it, you’d have to go back a few years to 2006, when Eli Roth’s “Hostel” came out. That film’s success would spawn endless low budget horror films that delighted in depicting dolor, birthing the subgenre known as “torture porn” or “splatter film.” We’re talking about at least four “Saw” sequels, two Rob Zombie films (“The Devil’s Rejects” and “Halloween”), and a sequel to “Hostel” to top it all off. So, by the time “The Ruins” hit theaters, my threshold for “torture porn” was tapped.
Over a decade later, the niche genre hasn’t completely disappeared. It lives on in films like “Ready Or Not” and television series like “American Horror Story.” But the horror genre, as of around 2012, is no longer oversaturated with these gore-fests. Revisiting “The Ruins” without that omnipresent onslaught of on-screen slaughter made me enjoy the film this time around. Not only do the effects hold up twelve years later, but so do the surprises.
Three films came to mind as I watched it again: “Cabin Fever,” “The Descent,” and “Open Water.” All three were revolutionary in the horror genre, were replicated often but never matched, and “The Ruins” couldn’t hold a candle to any of them. Again, I look back in time to answer why that is. “Cabin Fever” was Eli Roth’s first creation, just before “Hostel,” in 2002. “Open Water” was 2004. “The Descent” was 2006. They all felt new and exciting at that time, adding something refreshing to the genre, rather than overindulging it with a deluge of blood-and-guts. Although it does a decent job adding a distinct spin to the elements, it’s clear “The Ruins” is still over-borrowing from those movies.
I often misremember an association between Stephen King and “The Ruins.” King did provide a quote of approval for the book that the film is based on, that would end up on the DVD’s cover. But the association also came from the film itself feeling like one of his stories.
On vacation in Mexico, American college students meet a stranger and follow him to ancient Mayan ruins not located on any map. It turns out they’re unmarked for a reason. The bloodshed commences twenty minutes into the film. And, as the story progresses and the film’s secrets start to manifest, I found myself appreciating the film this time around. There are multiple levels of threats, a believable progression of events, and, even though the final girl is the least interesting character, the cast does a decent job (Jonathan Tucker, Shawn Ashmore, and Jena Malone).
In the end, however, it all comes back to cringeworthy carnage. The gut-wrenching thrills that make you avert your eyes. The amputation of a man’s legs and incisions to remove a foreign object from under a woman’s skin are just a few of these occasions. Overall, I’m glad I revisited “The Ruins.” Despite sequels rarely ending up better than the originals, I’m curious how this idea never lived beyond the one film.
April 4, 2008
Scott B. Smith
by Scott B. Smith
(for strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity)