Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Ruins (2008)

A superior teens-in-peril movie, this follows a quartet of American students on holiday in Mexico who learn to their cost that a previously undiscovered Mayan temple has been forgotten for a reason.  The basic premise is similar to that of the Stephen King stories (and films) "Cujo" and "The Raft", in that the central characters are caught between a rock and a hard place, a situation in which they can neither remain nor escape.

The characters are reasonably well drawn for this type of movie, the acting decent enough and the effects pretty good.  But where the film really scores is in the fiendish set up.  Almost as soon as they arrive at the ruins, the characters are prevented from leaving by a seemingly murderous bunch of local peasants.  Shortly after that they suffer a grievous injury to one of their number and then realise the ruins themselves pose a threat even greater than that of the peasants.  The strength of this set up is that the audience is, naturally, rooting for the Americans but also understands that if one or more them make it out of the ruins alive then the consequences could be disastrous.  It's a neat trick to pull off and works so well that, come the climax, you're not sure whether it represents victory or defeat.

The gore is kept to a mimimum and, unsually for a genre film, is largely self-inflicted; one sequence is a definite contender for the top five "Improvised Surgery" list.  My only quibble would be the rather leering attitude towards the female characters, one of whom spends most of the film running around in her pants and ubiquitous dirty white vest.  But it's a confident debut feature from director Carter Smith, whose career I shall make a point of following.  My hope is that he develops into a solid, new generation genre director like Eli Roth and Zack Snyder.

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