No, even in its unrated incarnation, "The Ruins" is hardly great cinema. Carter Smith's cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing tequila, Mayans and man-eating vines is a stripped down version of Scott Smith's bestseller, leaving all of the visceral thrills of the novel, but skipping much of the psychological depth. In cinematic form, "The Ruins" becomes utterly chaotic in its last 20 minutes, rushing through a series climaxes that blunt the devastating power of Smith's book and yield a conclusion so muddled that the DVD that hits shelves on Tuesday (July 8) actually has three different versions of the ending.
But taken on its own merits, "The Ruins" has enough crude amputations, deranged self-mutilations and creepy botanicals to smooth over its narrative choppiness. Anchored by solid performances by Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey, "The Ruins" skips over the superfluous slow-building suspense and goes straight for freaky, stomach-churning ickiness. In a good way.
DVD Bonus Features:
The Good: My immediate reaction after seeing "The Ruins" in the theater was that the final act, and particularly the ending, had been gutted by the studio. The DVD includes several deleted scenes that smooth some of the gaps and add quieter moments amidst the screaming and crying, plus commentary from Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt explaining why they didn't want anything to interrupt the screaming and crying. The best of three featurettes is titled "Creeping Death" and focuses on the practical and makeup effects that were used to bring the vines -- modeled after the pumpkin vine in a way that suggests a truly demented spin-off to "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" -- and gore to life. The more straight-forward "The Making of 'The Ruins'" features an amusingly straight-faced Ben Stiller, whose Red Hour shingle produced the movie, while "Building 'The Ruins'" shows how the film's production designer created steamy Mayan ruins in the Australian winter.
The Bad: For the most part, I wasn't able to notice many differences in the unrated version of the film, particularly given just how pleasantly gross the theatrical cut was. The biggest change is the ending, which turns out to be a combination between the useless theatrical ending and an over-resolved extended ending. It isn't surprising that Smith and Betancourt's commentary suggests that even to this minute neither of them has any sense of how the movie should have ended except for an agreement that sticking with the book's ending was untenable. In general, the commentary track is more wishy-washy than I like my commentaries, less committed to the choices made in the movie. There's a certain amusement, though, to Smith's back-and-forth internal debate on whether or not he's willing to call "The Ruins" a horror film. Given that Scott Smith remains the only credited writer on "The Ruins," it might have been interesting to hear the author's perspective on the book-to-screen transition.
The Price: $29.99