My wife and I both read Scott Smith's "The Ruins)" two summers back when it came out, which is why she did not go to the theater this afternoon to see the movie version. Previously she has left me sitting alone in the movie theater during showings of "Snakes on a Plane" and "Planet Terror," and I am pretty sure that there is some sort of third strike rule here that I need to stay clear of (for the record, she walked out of parts of "The Passion of the Christ" too, but she went with her mother and I was the chauffer and therefore not on a date). So when I returned from seeing the opening showing of "The Ruins" and reported to her that yes, indeed, the scenes that she did not want to see and in the movie, so she was wise to stay eating popcorn in bed and watching episode after episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," because she would have fled the theater. Then she asked how the movie was, and I told her in one concise sentence was happens at the end. She frowned and said, "So they ruined it."
Down in Mexico on Yucatan peninsula a pair of American couples are nearing the end of their vacation. We have Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone), along with Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey). They meet up Mathias (Joe Anderson) and his friend Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas). Mathias is trying to track down his brother, who is working on an archeological dig in the area. The idea of seeing an ancient Mayan ruin that is not some sort of tourist trap is intriguing so they find a local taxi pickup truck and head out into the jungle. Once there they find the path to the ruin, but as soon as they touch the bottom step a group of Mayans show up brandishing guns and other weapons, demanding that the visitors keep going the direction they are going and not return. Once atop the ruins, the group is trapped. Then things get worse.
Reading the novel will tell you most of what happens in this movie, but in adapting his screenplay to the screen, Smith has decided to switch who things happen to in this version of the tale. Maybe this is just to surprise his readers, and maybe it is because some of these people look better in their underwear than others. I cannot say that these changes hurt the story, because they do not. Trying to cut out pieces of an insidious vine invading your body or doing major surgery with a rock and a knife is always going to make me cringe, and I have to think many people will feel the same way. The problem with most of the film is that why all of the choice parts of the novel remain, albeit somewhat recast, most of the connecting tissue has had to be excised to get this film in at 91 minutes. That means that one of the key aspects of the novel, the fact that these people are trapped for several days in the hot sun with next to nothing for food and water, is fast forwarded through in the movie. One of the things that made the novel effective was that you had a real sense for how these people were spending hours not doing anything but living in fear. Then every time they actually tried doing something, it only tended to make things worse. All of that is essentially lost in this movie, which is where we lose the first star.
It is the ending that costs "The Ruins" a second star. Yes, Smith wrote the screenplay, so it would seem that the finger of blame should be pointed in his direction, but I have seen way too many alternative endings (and multiple alternative endings), so I am well aware that directors and studios do not care about how good a book or a script is, they only care about what the test results tell them to think. Because this is the sort of ending that a test audience might like, but only because they did not read the book and they have no appreciation for what makes a great ending in a horror film. What allows hyperbolic copywriters to claim that "The Ruins" is the greatest horror novel of the 21st century (good to know that it is all downhill for the next 92 years) is that the ending of the book drives home the final nail in the coffin. When this movie gets to what is essentially the same final scene as the book, the context is all different because of one massively monumental and stupid change. That final shot is now rendered superfluous.