Monday, October 08, 2012

Scott Smith's The Ruins: a tip for horror fans

An ill-timed cold has ruined plans to attend a friend's birthday party and catch some VIFF films (though it has helped me get some writing done); for entertainment, instead - because one can't stare into a screen all day - I've been reading Scott Smith's The Ruins. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and have revisited it a couple of times. Part of that is down to my being a bit of a Jena Malone fan, actually, having loved her in Donnie Darko, and liked her in the GMO-themed horror film Corn and in this; she's also got a very quirky musical career going, and seems like an interesting, talented young woman. But The Ruins is interesting horror fare regardless of her contribution. Despite seeming to be a globalized variant on the urban-rural horror film - four American tourists in Mexico, and one German, encounter great danger in the jungle and have to fight for their survival - what The Ruins (the film) really seems to me to be about is gender roles -  how women and men are expected to behave in certain situations, particularly when facing a crisis. We see the men through the women's eyes, and the women through the men's, and have cause to mistrust both; audience members are invited to feel this mistrust and to interrogate and/or overcome their own prejudices, and sort out their own values, based on the sort of gut-level, pre-conscious punch in the viscera that good horror can so well-deliver. Some belief needs to be suspended along the way, since certain aspects of the premise don't bear deep investigation, but the premise is not to be mistaken for the point of the affair. It's a film that bears some thinking - though the ending may be more pleasing for male viewers than females; it's not without its own biases.
What's surprising and somewhat delightful about the book, which I'm only now discovering, is that the story is significantly different from what appeared on-screen. Scott Smith, who adapted his own material from novel to screenplay, appears to have consciously decided to rethink elements of the plot, so people familiar with the book won't see certain things coming. There's an added character; there is a considerably longer section dealing with the Mayan villagers; different people descend into the mine; and the first characters to die and the last to survive are different from book to film. Delightfully, this change-up works both ways; people for whom the film is the primary text won't see certain things coming in the book. I'm not quite finished, but have greatly enjoyed reading it, and recommend the novel to fans of the film, if they haven't already gone there. There's a bit more suspension of disbelief required than in the film, which wisely omits certain details, to make things more plausible, but again, if you accept that the premise is not the point, and approach it in a forgiving way, there's a lot to think about; it's also a fast, fun, easy, and highly compelling read (which is sometimes exactly what one wants). Going to burn through it and hopefully get to sleep by 6am: I have a long day of writing ahead of me and need to get some sleep...

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