I have to be honest with you: I was disappointed when I visited the editing room of The Ruins. Not in the footage I saw, which was actually bordering on incredible, or what director Carter Smith said, which was just about everything right (the films he used as a point of comparison were Lifeboat and Cannibal Holocaust). What disappointed me is that the editing room looked like a little doctor’s waiting room with a couple of extra TVs and monitors and an Avid tucked under a desk. In my brain I knew that an editing room wouldn’t have film everywhere and a big machine running celluloid, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for how boring the digital age has made just about everything.
Except maybe the movies themselves. I was able to see three scenes from The Ruins, based on Scott Smith’s book and with a screenplay by the author himself, and I was deeply impressed by what I was shown. Carter Smith (no relation to Scott) started his career as a fashion photographer; working with the great DP Darius Khondji, Carter was able to create some striking and often beautiful imagery. The first clip we saw was the main characters – a quartet of young American travelers and a German searching for his missing brother – approaching the titular ruins. In the novel the action takes place on a hill, here the decision was made to set it at a Mesoamerican pyramid. Makes sense to me. As the kids come to the pyramid, which is covered in a thick, leafy vine-like growth, they’re stopped by some natives who are very, very agitated. Things quickly go into the shitter from there. Smith builds real tension in this scene, and when it breaks out into violence it’s visceral and impactful. When this clip ended I actually found myself disappointed – I had been sucked into the story and wanted to see what happened next.
Smith offered two options for the next clip: ‘The Operation’ or ‘The Amputation.’ He had said that some international journalists who had visited the editing bay had been quite squeamish about the gore, but I was gung ho. As a fan of people getting body parts cut off, I voted for ‘The Amputation.’
What a fucking scene. At the top of the pyramid is a hole. From within the characters hear the ringing of a phone, and one descends inside to investigate. In a bummer move, he takes a fall and breaks his back and manages to strip most of the flesh from his lower legs. The guy is laying dying and one of the other characters says the only way to keep him alive, to stop the infection that is surely setting in, is to amputate both legs. Besides, he argues, this guy broke his back. He can’t feel anything.
Now, our characters are trapped on top of this pyramid by angry and weapon-wielding locals, so the only tools they have for the operation are a stone to break the bones, an old hunting knife to do the cutting and a pan that can be heated and used to cauterize the bloody stumps. The scene had me on the edge of my seat – Smith again proves that he can build suspense and has a perfect grasp of the pacing on a scene like this. When the procedure actually happens – and it turns out that maybe this guy has some feeling after all – it blew me away. This is one of the most brutal, wince-inducing amputations I’ve seen on film, and the sound design only improves everything. My shins hurt while watching that.
This is a hard R movie. Smith said that they were still discussing strategies for dealing with the MPAA, but this is going to be a movie that will certainly have legitimate extra gore material on the DVD. Even the version of the amputation I saw had been toned down a bit from the original cut.
Finally Smith showed a scene from earlier in the film, when the Americans were clean and healthy and staying in a hotel. There’s actual honest to God nudity here – male and female! – and Karl from Paramount later told me I was the only journalist to bring it up with the director. Look, this may make me a creep or something, but I feel like movies – especially horror films – have been shying away from nudity for years. There’s nothing more distracting than seeing actors going through contortions to keep their naughty bits away from the camera… plus I like looking at naked women. Sue me. For those wondering, no, Jenna Malone is not naked. But she is in her panties puking in a toilet.
I haven’t read The Ruins, and after seeing this footage I won’t be reading it. What I saw was impressive enough for me that I want to experience this story first from Carter Smith’s point of view, and then later go back to the original material. I’ll run the full interview with Carter Smith next week, but in the meantime I wanted to give you this peek at what has suddenly become one of my more anticipated films of 2008.
The teaser trailer for The Ruins has just been released; head over to Collider to see it.