ANOKS: The Ruins

One of the classic plot devices in horror movies is isolation.  The protagonists (or victims, whatever you want to call them) are in a terrifying situation because they’re alone, with little or no chance of calling for or finding help.  Think “The Thing”.  Think “The Shining”.  Heck, even movies we’ve already talked about like “Vacancy” or “The Strangers” rely on the bad guys isolating their targets – because face it, it’s just not as scary if you can dial 911.  (Actually, it can be scarier if you can call for help and it doesn’t matter, but I digress…)

Author Scott Smith used isolation to great effectiveness in his novel “The Ruins”.  In it, four friends just out of college are partying in Mexico and decide to get away from the same-old same-old of the resort and go see some nearby ruins.  As you might imagine, this turns out to be a Bad Idea and there’s all sorts of red-flags associated with it, but being young and not-very-wise, the crew plows on.

 

The Ruins

The friends (and a hanger-on from the resort that wanted to go along) get to the vine-covered ruins of an Aztec-ish pyramid after a fairly arduous journey.  Upon exploring it, they are “quarantined” on it by gun and bow-wielding locals.  Then, Really Bad Things start to happen.  Because you know what?  Those vines aren’t just there for show.

 

In his previous book, “A Simple Plan”, Smith explored the psychology of greed and disintegration of personal relationships after some friends make some bad choices (it’s a great book if you’ve never read it).  In “The Ruins” there is a similar proposition:  the friends make some bad choices and get into a bad spot.  We begin to watch them crack – both individually and communally – from both a physical (they have little water and food) and mental standpoint as things go from bad to worse to… worse than worse.  It’s a really great, creepy mix of horror and psychology.

 

Having Fun Yet?

And I would love to say that film version captures the isolation and psychological horror of the story effectively.  But I can’t.   Two things missed the mark in the movie: first, they focused too much on the physical horror and not enough on the psychological stress and friends’ relationships unraveling.  Second, the movie is too short.  Part of the effectiveness of the book is that Smith covers the down time – the worrying, the dread, the hopeful-to-hopeless cycle of not being able to get out of their predicament – and punctuates that with short bursts of action.  The filmmakers move the story too quickly – cramming parts together so that is seems like the friends are being knocked around like ping-pong balls and never get to really reflect on their situation.

 

Still, as a straight-up horror flick, it mostly works  — it’s just too bad about the missed opportunity.

7 stars.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to throw out all our houseplants.

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12 thoughts on “ANOKS: The Ruins

  1. Pingback: A Nightmare on Kel’s Street (tentative schedule) « KellyVision

  2. I agree with your assessment – the book seriously creeped me out – the movie was entertaining, but just didn’t quite rise to the level of horror I was hoping for.

  3. I’m so impressed that you can watch all these scary movies. I really want to and every time I see even part of a trailer, I freak out. Even movies that people say “aren’t really scary” still seem to freak me out. The last movie I saw that I consider scary or horror was John Cusack’s “Identity”. Have you seen it? I remember being so proud of myself that I got through it and it was rather absorbing with a twist at the end.

    Anyways….also wanted to mention that I love your blog and I read it every day and I’m a really horrible commenter! By the time I go to comment, the rug rats have usually gotten in to something! So just so you know….I do read! :)

    • I loved “Identity”, Steph! I thought it was really tense and kept you guessing. Really well done — and creepy.

      I think that horror movies are like rollercoasters for people — either you like that adrenalin rush, or you don’t. I don’t watch the gory ones, because to me that’s not scary, just gross. Real tension and anxiety can be done without gross-out techniques.

    • “The Thing From Another World” was a great movie — very tense and claustrophobic. I haven’t seen that in a while — I think I’m going to add it to my Netflix queue and watch it next time the Beloved is traveling.

  4. The movie only creeped me out because I made the bad choice of watching it by myself, while Steven was away for a couple of days. I won’t make that mistake with the book! They’re always worse.

    I remember watching “The Bad Seed” a long time ago. Ugh. To this day, I can’t hear Für Elise without thinking of that child beating the other girl off the pier with her shoes. I wonder if I’d feel the same way watching it now.

    • The book is a great vacation read — in the winter!!

      Oh — I’d forgotten that in “The Bad Seed” — now I’m definitely not going to play Fur Elise for a while!

  5. This was my favorite review, you had me on the edge of my seat just from the description! I want to check out both the book and movie now. Isolation and also as we said before the minimalism (i.e. lack of gore) is much creepier than the filmmaker stealing away our imagination of the horror. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Emmy — the book was definitely better than the movie — though that’s not completely fair since most are — the movie was a little more “show me” than it needed to be, but still pretty good.

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