The Ruins (Unrated Edition) (2008)

Actors: Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson
Director: Carter Smith
Writers: Scott B. Smith
Producers: Trish Hofmann
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 1
Studio: DreamWorks SKG
DVD Release Date: July 8, 2008
Run Time: 93 minutes



If Herschell Gordon Lewis directed Little Shop of Horrors, The Ruins would likely be the end product. A skin-crawlingly diabolical horror film, The Ruins is a sobering reminder that the screen can still generate anxiety on a massive scale when it meets material that takes few prisoners.

On vacation in Mexico, four college students (Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, and Jonathan Tucker) meet a German tourist (Joe Anderson) looking to break away from the grind of perfect beaches and bottomless margaritas. Their adventure destination is a lost Mayan temple located in the middle of a dense jungle, and once arrived, the group tragically learns they are not welcome by the vicious locals. Trapped on top of the temple, the students quickly grasp they are not alone, finding the flowers and vines that surround them have a taste for blood. Toying with the group, the ferocious flora waits patiently as injury and madness soon settles in, leaving the hapless youngsters with no means of escape.

Adapted by Scott Smith (A Simple Plan) from his own novel, The Ruins is governed by one rule: razor-sharp simplicity. There's no undercurrent of absurd social commentary, no extraneous subplots vying for screen time; The Ruins is a straightforward exercise in endurance and disturbing imagery. Not having personally experienced the novel, I didn't sense any gaps in the storytelling, which is a credit to Smith, who overhauled his original plot to streamline the agony. It's a triumphant piece of scripting, securing the tension to the front burners at all times and staging sequences not for their jump-scare potential, but for more gut-wrenching results that will surely leave weak-kneed home viewers sprinting to eject the DVD.

Director Carter Smith (Bugcrush) is game to go where Smith leads and he rarely breaks the film's constant haze of dread. Ruins dabbles in psychological torment, yet the heart of this beast lies in old-fashioned displays of gore, with the characters digging around in their own bodies with knives in a pathetic attempt to keep the vines literally out of their system. Certainly this isn't high art, but Ruins is near-perfect at manipulating its audience, emphasizing physical threat and consequence, with a profound admiration for armrest-squeezing bodily harm on a level few recent horror productions would dare explore.

The acting by the young leads is better than expected, especially the work committed to the screen here by Laura Ramsey, who is the only member of the cast to reach the next level of despair as the vines attempt to find a warm home under her skin. Smith wisely keeps the actorly hysterics to a minimum, preferring visual communication of suffering that's incredibly more effective riling up the audience than bad actors allowed free reign to act badly.

THE DISC: The Ruins is offered in an "Unrated" edition, which adds a few snippets of character development and extra, explicit gore. There's also a new ending, which predictably steamrolls over the film's original optimistic conclusion. If possible, stick with the theatrical cut for any first viewing.

The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) image is a crisp, clean, and startling experience to behold. The film's considerable black levels are maintained wonderfully, and color pops extraordinarily. Sweaty detail is pronounced throughout.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix keeps the thrills alive with heavy use of surrounds, dragging the viewer into the heart of claustrophobic botanical terror. Dialogue and scoring selections are separated splendidly.

English, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.

Extras include an audio commentary with director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt, a track that's kept alive by Betancourt's relentless questioning, which opens up the director to chat more deeply about his picture.

Some highlights:

  • Author Scott Smith was generous and encouraging with the alterations to his original novel.
  • This Mexican adventure was actually shot in Australia.
  • A majority of the film was photographed with natural light.
  • The duo point out some interesting narrative reconstruction that occurred during the editorial process.
  • The test screening process included use of a hidden camera to accurately note the film's top scares.

Smith and Betancourt really deliver the info, only dropping out when the new footage arrives. It becomes clear the filmmakers didn't know of any unrated version by the end of the commentary, discussing the "hopeful" ending that isn't there anymore.

"Making 'The Ruins'" (14:23) is a banal EPK holdover, interviewing cast and crew (even producer Ben Stiller) on the making of the picture. The film is held up in the best possible light to a nauseating degree, but there's a wealth of appealing behind-the-scenes footage to take in.

"Creeping Death" (15:04) discusses the challenge of making plants scary. Key crew members are brought in to chat about the film's villains, showing viewers how the green menace was constructed, executed, and sweetened with CGI.

"Building the Ruins" (6:18) sits down with production designer Grant Major to explore how the sets were built. This is a superbly detailed look on how the central location was created, employing more digital glue than expected to make it all come together seamlessly.

"Deleted Scenes" (11:55) showcases a rainstorm, a moment with alcohol, a longer hold on despair, a more extensive, hokey alternate ending (partially used on the unrated cut), and the film's original theatrical finale.

Finally, a Theatrical Trailer for The Ruins has been included on this DVD.

WORTH IT? It could be the steady diet of numbskull horror offerings lately, but I was with Ruins for the entire ride, delighting in the merciless direction and fantastical botanical twists with eyes wide open. It's one of those strap-in-and-ride-it-out experiences that are all too rare; forgoing elaborate strands of exposition to settle on more direct lunges of terror. It's a marvelous nightmare machine.

- Brian Orndorf



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