Honey, Honey, Yeah.
About a year ago, I listened to the audio version of Scott Smith’s novel The Ruins.
There’s now a film version of this trouble-in-paradise story. Directed by relative novice Carter Smith, adapted by the author himself, and distributed by Dreamworks, The Ruins thrusts half a dozen nubile protagonists into a world of sudden death, injury, and doom in what was supposed to be, for four of them, the last bash before the rest of their adult lives. Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (Shawn Ashmore), and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are vacationing in Mexico to enjoy the final days of their insouciant youth. A quasi-chance encounter with a German named Mathias (Joe Anderson), who randomly befriended three Greeks at the resort, throws the bunch on a trip deep into the heart of Central American jungle vegetation. The four Americans, the German, and Dimitiri (Dimitri Baveas), one of the Greeks, set off to the site of an archaeological dig at a Mayan temple to help locate the German’s younger brother Henrich. What the protagonists find (and don’t find) seal their fates and only a pocketful of luck might save them.
As a text independent of its narrative ancestor but considered alongside other examples of vacation-gone-awry-or-deadly cinema, The Ruins is disappointing and mediocre at best. There isn’t adequate time or charisma conveyed for the viewer to grow attached to any of the characters. While the special effects are predominantly satisfying, and the roles are well-cast, the build-up of dread and peril is insufficiently presented. The plot covers a time frame of three nights and four days total–two nights and three days at the vine-covered mound. The US theatrical release is ninety-one minutes long–the film itself feels about fifteen minutes shorter. It’s possible that to avoid making a two-and-a-half-hour epic, sympathy for the characters and more effective creation and sustenance of suspense had to be sacrificed.*
I’m not going to get into every similarity and difference between the novel and the film. For more comments about the experience reading the book, click here and scroll down to Schtinky’s review. He remarks that “Scott Smith has captured the atmosphere of a strange, exotic land, the horror that envelops futility, and the unsettling sense of when sanity slips away – when a human life is measured by a slice of orange. He captures every detail of thought and action without slipping into boredom or redundancy.
I felt like I was right there in the heat and the vines with them, felt the languid, creeping dread, tasted the senselessness of imprudent action and fruitless inaction. ‘The Ruins’ is a true horror tale, splattered with just enough gore to keep you smacking your lips.”
Listening to Patrick Wilson narrate the audio version–and while I was in the process of falling asleep to boot–creates the very sensations and responses that Schtinky articulates. The film, however, pales in comparison. Should I add an “inevitably” or “unfortunately” somewhere before or after “pales”? Having Smith adapt the screenplay may or may not have been the best move, but I don’t think it was the wrong one–if that makes any sense. Rather than have an outsider edit down certain scenes, storylines, or character functions, getting the author of the source material might mean fewer rewrites.
The Ruins, the film, is without a few scenes, begins and ends differently (in key areas), and swaps the deaths of a few characters. Oh yes, here is a situation where it is no mystery and cannot be a surprise that not everyone survives. But you knew that–you’ve at least seen the first Scream movie. N’est-ce pas?
Observations & Miscellania:
1. In the novel, Amy’s camera, a chirping cell phone, bottles of tequila, and other backpacking supplies (a knife, first-aid kit, water, and dried food items) are featured prominently. The Ruins comes across as ripe for product placement, but the film studio and director decided against it–a good decision, I think. The only brand name I could “recognize” is Aquafina (you can’t mistake that bottle), but the name is never directly on screen. I couldn’t catch the writing on the tequila. The cell phone does not receive any conspicuous endorsements. And, while Amy’s camera is still important in terms of plot, receiving close-ups throughout, its brand name is not foregrounded on screen.
2. I would like to mention, though, that the most immediately obvious difference between the book and film is the name of the Greek that accompanies the Americans and German to the dig site. In the novel, his name is Pablo, in the film it’s Dimitri.
3. I wonder how many deleted scenes the DVD will have.
4. *Unless, of course, the viewer isn’t supposed to identify with the characters. The film as it is–and not taking into account any subplots left on the cutting room floor–even portrays the protagonists (especially the Americans) in a less than guiltless light (I’m not jumping on an ideological reading of characters as “dumb Westerners”). The shots of bare buttocks (Jeff’s and Stacy’s) and breasts (Stacy’s) strike me as simultaneously superfluous and illuminating. The viewer is either necessarily placed in this voyeuristic position to view the characters as specimens in some experiment (and thus feel less when bad fortune befalls them); Or, a sliver of rear and profile nudity will lure the target audiences into theatre seats.
5. If you want to know how the characters in the book die vs. the film, please highlight the pertinent words: In the book, which is much more contemplative and sad, they all die. Pablo, the Greek, is the one that eagerly volunteers to be let down the shaft to see what’s down there. He’s the one that falls, breaks his back, ends up getting his legs amputated before the knees, and then dies due to exposure, infection, and the carnivorous vines. Eric is the one who is later lowered into the shaft to report on Pablo’s injuries; Eric is the one whose knee is cut and then ultimately skins himself live to get at the vines that have buried themselves inside his body. He accidentally stabs Mathias when he and Jeff try to pry the knife from his hands. I think Stacy dies from dehydration and the loss of will power. Amy and Jeff are the last ones left, until one day Jeff moves too far from the vines and he’s shot with arrows. Amy slashes her wrists.
In the movie, Dimitri, the Greek, is killed before they make it up the vine temple. Mathias then takes his place in terms of storyline. Stacy and Eric trade places as well. She’s the one that goes in to check on the injured Mathias and cuts her knee in the process; she’s the one that slices into her flesh to remove the invading vines. She accidentally kills Eric when he and Jeff try to get the knife away. She also slashes Jeff’s left palm in that fit of madness. Jeff’s demise is more or less consistent with the book. But Amy gets away–another final girl. In the novel, there’s also a harrowing scene where Jeff and Amy realize that there was never a cell phone–it was the vines all along. The movie swaps Jeff for Stacy.
7. I would not recommend this film even as a guilty pleasure unless you’ve at least read or listened to some of the book. The movie is better suited as an audiovisual accompaniment or aid to the novel than a closed-text film.
8. One of the worst movie posters ever? Aesthetically very unsightly.
9. Jonathan Tucker as Jeff. As needless as his mooning bit was, he’s got a nice bottom.
Read Pete Vonder Haar’s review of The Ruins here.
Click here for the trailer.