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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ruins (The)

Okay, so I’m not about to ruin The Ruins for you. I promise. I know some people have said they don’t like reading my ramblings here because I tell too much about the plot of the movies I see, and I’ve actually tried to scale back the scoopage as a result, probably to the point that some of you now scratch your heads and wonder if this column is even about the movies anymore, but what can I say? No matter who I try to please I’m bound to make someone else unhappy. What’s a gal to do? This is when you need a real politician to figure things out, but, then again, who likes politicians?

Hopefully some of you answered ‘yes’ to that question because
The Ruins is like some kind of weird allegory for the Bush administration. It’s all about these naïve young Americans who wander into a foreign morass of despair where the bushes (the leafy ones, not the lying-through-their-teeth-DC ones) stand between them and their eventual safety and personal freedom.

The Ruins begins in some fabulous resort where 20-somethings go who have seemingly deep pockets, shallow morals, and a huge propensity to drink and make the horizontal hula as often as possible as long as it doesn’t interfere with their possible close-ups should an "MTV Spring Break" camera be anywhere in the near vicinity. The story centers on two couples: Jeff (Jonathan Tucker; In the Valley of Elah) and Amy (Jena Malone; Into the Wild) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore; X-Men 3: The Last Stand) and Stacey (Laura Ramsey; The Covenant). The quartet meet up with a Swiss tourist named Mathias (Joe Anderson; Across the Universe), on holiday and planning to meeting up with his brother Heinrich, an archeologist, who has uncovered a hidden Mayan temple previously unexplored by modern scientists. Heinrich sent his younger brother a map via the Internet which would lead him to the dig where he and his girlfriend, a fellow archeologist, were setting up camp. This way Mathias could find his way to The Ruins on his own when he reached Mexico. Apparently Heinrich forgot to mention anything about not turning it into a group field trip because in no time Mathias generously invites his new-found friends to come along for the adventure.

Since the four Americans have spent their entire vacation hanging around the pool or testing out
the springs in their Sertas back in their hotel rooms it makes perfect sense that they take the Swiss Mister up on his offer to join him on the day trip to see something older than Donatella Versace or Nancy Reagan.

Quicker than you can say “Lohan would have loved to have been in this but the producers already have one enormously gaping dirty hole in this and they didn’t want to confuse the audience further”, everybody’s looking down the shaft of something other than Jeff and Eric: that other gaping dirty hole which is the entrance from the top of the seemingly abandoned Mayan temple.

Maybe it was a weekday? I know when I go to Temple in the middle of a weekday it’s often deserted, and I guarantee you if someone named Heinrich showed up and it wasn’t empty it would be soon enough. I’m sorry, but some memories are long and to this day my Bubbe Lowenstein still refuses to have a gas oven in her home (I’m not kidding).

Anyway, without giving too much away, trips are taken in and out of the hole, tragedies happen, and the mystery deepens. What’s going on here? Things rustle behind the Bushes (er, bushes) and even though no one can get a good look at what they are (Cheney, is that you?), or what’s in the dark soul of the beast (Dick? Condi? Come out, come out, whoever you are!), these shrubs, like the ‘capital B’ bushes, seem hell-bent on killing off our healthy, happy young Americans on this unfamiliar soil. The locals also none too keen on having had their territory invaded against their wishes and have made that clear with weapons of their own directed at the interloping trespassers. Naturally, they are perceived as the ignorant savages, although maybe they just might be smarter than the “civilized” white folk understand, but since when has that stopped us as Americans from assuming our God-given right to know more than anybody else. '

By the time
The Ruins is in ruins, your appetite probably will be too. This is one of those “horror” movies that is less about building tension than it is about gross out thrills. Don’t get me wrong. There are some wickedly tense scenes, but what you’ll remember later is the… carving. I will say no more. My lips are sealed, and you’d want yours to be too if you were on top of Temple Bet Imnext.

The Ruins is more than the standard schlock you might expect this time of year. Despite the unbelievable pretexts of its plot, there is surprisingly good acting among the young, yet experienced cast. Shawn Ashmore, in particular, though not the first male lead, plays a more ‘everyman’ character than Tucker, whose “Jeff” is an aspiring physician and the self-appointed leader of the group. Ashmore’s “Eric” morphs from golden boy with the twinkling baby blues and lascivious smile to a weary and fatalistic realist that sells the story better than anyone else. While the women take turns tag-teaming with bouts of hysteria, director Carter Smith (Bugcrush) wisely keeps Ashmore’s marvelous mug in the background at just the right moments to register the audience’s own horror, disgust, fear, and revulsion and makes it feel all the more real for us in our comfy plush seats.

Finally, here’s a real fun kids-in-the-woods creepy that is more than just another 500th or so retread of Friday the 13th with some psycho bumping the young’uns off one after the other.
The Ruins, based on a novel and screenplay by Scott B. Smith (A Simple Plan), is a twisted tale that may have you wanting to plant yourself firmly into a seat at the Essex Cinemas and hoping you can make it through without jumping out of your skin. I will warn you though, the last five minutes is a major disappointment, but don’t hate the whole movie over the weak ending. I’m telling myself something ate the cameraman on his way off The Ruins. He probably had the last spool of film with him.

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