By the time I’d gotten my hands on an advanced reading copy of Scott Smith’s “The Ruins”, the film rights had already been snatched up by Ben Stiller’s production company. That’s right; before Smith’s book even landed on the shelves of your local Barnes and Noble, before it even sold a single copy, it was already in pre-production as a motion picture. That’s how good of a novel The Ruins is, but how well does it translate to film?
A group of friends - Jeff (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” Jonathan Tucker), girlfriend Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (“X-Men’s” Shawn Ashmore), and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) - are on a leisurely vacation in Mexico, where they befriend a German tourist named Matthias (Joe Anderson). Matthias tells them of a newly discovered ruin in the jungle that his brother went to visit, and asks the group if they’d like to accompany him to find his brother and see the ruins. Jeff is all for it, as he’s grown tired of lounging by the pool all day, and he and the others twist the unenthused Amy’s arm to go along. When the group arrives at their destination, they discover little more than a large mound covered in thick brush and vines, some tents, and a hole in the ground. Not long after, though, they find themselves surrounded by local natives brandishing guns, machetes, and bows, intent on keeping the quintet trapped atop this mound, where it quickly becomes clear that the fauna is ferocious! That’s right; the snaking red vine has quite the appetite, and our heroes find themselves caught between certain death at the hands of the locals, or serving as dinner to the vicious vines surrounding the ruins.
Adapted from his novel, Scott Smith writes the screenplay, here, mixing things up just enough to keep those who read the book off their guard, but not so much that it’s missing any of the “good stuff”, especially the great character development that made the book such an effectively tragic bit of psychological horror. These characters are well beyond the stereotypes usually seen in the genre, and the excellent cast – especially Tucker and Malone – truly flesh out Smith’s creations. Carter Smith paces the film wonderfully, brining the novel’s “page turner” intensity to vivid life, and not shying away from the gruesome imagery (this is one gory flick). My only gripes with the film was the reduction of the Matthias character’s role (without revealing anything, his fate is the same – err…just less so), and Scott Smith’s decision to alter what was, in my mind, the book’s absolutely flawless ending.
The Ruins is not only a terrifying film, it’s also quite an attractively shot movie, thanks in great part to its lovely Mexican locales. This is reproduced wonderfully in this Blu-ray presentation, with drop-dead gorgeous vibrancy and clarity. With much of the film’s action taking place at night or in dimly lit caves, the black levels are perfectly consistent, deep, and rich. In the case of some of the film’s most grisly of demises, the image quality is almost too good, as every gory detail is presented in pixel perfect quality.
The Ruins isn’t a particularly “loud” film, nor does it feature the sort of subwoofer rattling sound effects that usually benefit best from HD audio, but what the film lacks in bombast it more than makes up for in subtle creepiness. From the ambient noise of the jungle and the whispering of the vines to the unnervingly wet sound of eviscerated flesh, this is an all-encompassing surround mix that is so eerily understated it may catch you off guard.
A healthy selection of 1080p extras accompany this release. In addition to a feature-length commentary track featuring director Smith, and editor Jeff Betancourt, The Ruins BD sports three short featurettes; Making the Ruins, Creeping Death, and Building The Ruins. Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes, two alternate endings (including the original theatrical ending, which I prefer over this Unrated version’s), and the film’s trailer.
I’m not surprised The Ruins turned out as good as it did, especially once I’d found out that Smith, himself, would be taking on scripting duties. Once the cast was announced, my expectations were only raised as Tucker, Malone, and Ashmore (I wasn’t familiar with Laura Ramsey, but after that naked-tastic opening, I’m sure aware of her now) are some of the finest young actors working today, and their work here only solidifies that. Dreamworks delivers a superlative Blu-ray release of a film that is gruesome, intense, and scary as all hell. The Ruins, much like its slithering antagonists, is a horror film that will get under your skin.