There’s something mysterious and alluring about the idea of naïve adventurers peeking their head into an ancient hole in the ground knowing full well nothing good will come from it. Catching glimpses of this act in trailers for The Ruins, based on a popular novel, sparks a response of an inquisitive nature following this line of thought. Something “else” is buried in this seemingly simplistic concept willing risking utter letdown to discover firsthand in high definition on Blu-ray Disc.
Before four American college kids vacationing in Mexico can visit the “off the beaten path” archaeological temple dig site in search of some culture not found lounging by their hotel’s poolside, the script spends nearly a half hour getting acquainted with the probable victims at the hotel, a nighttime beach party and the long cab ride to the site. Waiting for something “bad” to happen during this Turistas segment marked the first of two instances I glanced down at my watch and accomplished little more than stamping a “I’m the last survivor” mark on one character’s forehead.
The kids, played well enough in typical teen-horror stereotyped fashion by Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey, Jena Malone and Shawn Ashmore, are invited to the ruins by a German traveler whose brother went to the site with his archaeologist girlfriend and never returned. Logic implicates going to an unmarked geographical location isn’t the greatest idea with a stranger in a foreign land when you’re supposed to return home the next day. Toss logic out the window when alcohol and hangovers come into play. After all, there’s no movie unless the kids are dumb enough to make the trek.
Arriving at the ruins kicks off a genuine “you’re screwed” scenario for the German and his tagalongs that forced me to spend the rest of the film unsuccessfully trying to figure a way out of. Scores of armed locals will shoot dead anyone who tries to leave the ruins structure, and staying there in hopes of a random rescue will lead to starvation and a slow, painful death. Then of course there is something “else” that will bring death a lot faster and more agonizing than a dried up water bottle.
The other time I glanced at my watch was with about 15 minutes left when far more characters than anticipated were still breathing. With such few precious minutes left and countless strings to tie, the inevitable rushed conclusion kicks in and before long there are no longer any living Americans at the ruins site. All the mental anguish, dread, extreme gore framed by sunlight rather than masked by shadows; it’s all wrapped up in a tidy conclusion not fitting the psychologically challenging journey it took to get there.
The Ruins unrated cut on Blu-ray offers, in addition to prolonged seat-squirming worthy gratuitous gore, a subtle effects tweak to a closing scene that could have a profound impact on the likelihood of a direct-to-video sequel. The theatrical cut’s treatment of the same scene dismisses several unwritten “rules” set forth whilst at the ruins site which this alternate ending addresses and follows.
Paramount presents The Ruins on Blu-ray Disc in a widescreen 2.35:1 VC-1 encoded transfer tasked with replicating the dark depths of the ruins interiors and the sun drenched Mexican jungle. The opening prologue scene is shot entire in the dark with strong blacks and detail on a dimly lit character. Immediately afterwards is a panning shot over the Mexican (Australian, actually) jungle with lush greens and no ill effects from motion blur.
Most of the time at the dig site is spent atop the ruins where constant sunlight draws out detail in the rocks, vines covering the ruins, camping gear and especially the blood. Tight camera shots of several overly horrific acts of self-induced mutilation bring the gore to life in colorful ways DVD can only dream of. Then moments later, the dark confines of the ruins lit only by torches are spot-on replicated with nary an issue.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio track accompanying the journey to the ruins won’t knock your socks off or send you into a boredom coma. There’s subtle yet persistent use of ambient sounds to create atmosphere whether spending time with the cast poolside or journeying with them into a deep dark hole. Sound plays an important role in one of the plot’s twists and several acts of violence, springing to life when called upon to provide a jump scare or build tension without drowning out the character’s voices. Much of The Ruins’ ability to keep the audience engaged can be attributed to the collection of eerie noises throughout.
All the provided supplements are presented in either 1080i or 1080p high definition as was becoming Paramount’s norm for new-theatrical releases on HD DVD that has carried over to Blu-ray. There’s less than an hour’s worth of material aside from a commentary track.
Commentary by Director Carter Smith and Editor Jeff Betancourt: This seemingly safe pairing turns the commentary into a question and answer session as first-time director Carter gets barraged with questions by Jeff. The result is a fulfilling commentary that explores the project from conception through post-production from every imaginable angle.
Making the Ruins (14:23): A relatively straightforward featurette that explores putting the creative team and cast together.
Creeping Death (15:05): Meet one of the head prop makers responsible for creating one of the Ruins inhabitants. About halfway through there’s a shift to exploring the film’s blood and gore effects, worth checking out to see how the near-realistic qualities were achieved.
Building the Ruins (6:20) – A short featurette that wastes no time packing in everything you’d want to know about building the multiple ruin sets in just over 6 minutes.
5 Deleted Scenes with optional director Carter Smith and Editor Jeff Betancourt Commentary (11:46): There are multiple scenes in here involving a large downpour that effectively removes the desperation of dieing from a lack of rations the kids experienced. They brought hope and joy, two emotions the final cut are rightfully devoid of.
The secret of what lurks in the dark and scary hole at the temple ruins and what it is capable of can be surprising and a twist on films like The Descent unless you know beforehand what to expect. This idea isn’t novel per se, but is filmed to provide familiar shock value in unfamiliar ways. An additional 10 minutes to better flesh out the lopsided climax and provide some much needed historical reference for the ruins would have done wonders for the storytelling and desire to return. Unless you have a taste for re-watching abundant 1080p gore, one trip to this beautifully shot and superbly mixed Blu-ray Disc is quite enough for any high-def adventurer to stomach.
– Dan Bradley
Shop for The Ruins on Blu-ray Disc at Amazon.com.