I told you all that I was going to make an effort to see THE RUINS on the screen, and I did it. Yup, I conquered my growing fear of going to see a movie in a cell phone-saturated theater and actually saw a flick as it was meant to be seen.
Now, I wouldn’t exactly call what I’m about to write a review—I was in a very analytical frame of mind, having just finished the book—but I’m not sure the film worked as well as I thought it would. However, for me, viewing it was probably more of an exercise in deconstructing what happens when a novel is made into a movie than a pure entertainment event.
First, I will say this: THE RUINS movie is a definite roller coaster ride that bangs from one terrible plot twist to the next as those four early-twenties tourists and a couple of friends venture to a cryptic Mayan temple that isn’t published on any map (and for good reason). It won’t be spoiler if I told you that they become trapped there, and what made this story so compelling and awful for me in the first place was what happens to the characters while they await rescue…or maybe even death. It’s both a horror and survival tale, and I think something that worked really well in the book was the slow march of time—the worry about where the survivors were going to get water, the fear of medical traumas, the onset of despair and what that does to a psyche.
In the movie, all of the action is condensed, as it has to be if you’re going to package a horror film in ninety minutes. When you’re writing a book, you do what’s best for the book; when you’re constructing a movie, you do what’s best to tell the story visually. I have no problems with changes that need to be made from page to screen at all. Yet as a result of the time factor in this case, the action in THE RUINS is almost manic. The loss of the time it takes to really tell this story robs the film of something vital—dread.
Also, it was interesting to see how the screenwriter—who just happens to be Scott Smith, the author of the book—chooses to switch around the characterization. In the movie, there’s an obvious attempt to whittle down the number of characters right off the bat, so some character attributes are assigned to different people. This worked for me, especially since the two heroines are far more active in the movie. (That was something I was struck by with the book—the girls are either whiny or totally inept.) I thought that change was particularly interesting. Do movie audiences demand more out of their heroines or something? Did Smith feel that the females’ characterization would be far more glaring when presented visually and that’s the reason changes were made? Or were the alterations just the result of consolidating those characters and a nice accident resulted?
THE RUINS does do a great job with CGI—I didn’t register the use of it until I started thinking about the film afterward. And it really is a cut above most horror movies—it actually even takes a “monster” that would sound silly if I pitched it outright to you and does a whole lot more with it, making it a psychological beast rather than mainly a physical one.
BTW, if you can’t deal with gore, you won’t want to see this. The squickiest scenes from the book are intact. Quite ucky yet effective….