A woman reeling from tragedy pieces together a horrific puzzle to discover a man named Jebediah Crone & his evil pastime.
So many remakes miss the mark. In an uncommon turn, Breck Eisner's remake of THE CRAZIES by George A. Romero actually improves on the original to make for plenty of chills and thrills.
The Ruins. 2008. Directed by Carter Smith. Screenplay by Scott B. Smith, based on his novel of the same name.
Starring Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, & Joe Anderson. DreamWorks Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment/Red Hour.
Unrated. 93 minutes.
For the past couple decades especially, heading down South on vacation is popular among North American men and women, often breaking away from work or school to do a week of all-inclusive eating and drinking at some resort; a rich resort planted right next to some of the poorest areas of Mexico, and other similar places. At the same time, most of them never experience any real Mexican culture or whichever culture in the midst of which they find themselves. I’d go straight to see the ruins and depending on where I was castles, the whole lot. Whatever I could.
Often when people associate a kind of horror with these types of vacations, we imagine the real life horror that’s all too prevalent in the world: kidnappings and ransoms, armed robbery, murders and the like. The Ruins takes a more supernatural styled look at the Mexican vacation, depicting what happens when the ignorance of tourists leads them towards a fate more dangerous, more evil than anything human beings had planned. In a tale of culture shock mixed with an eco-creature feature, director Carter Smith uses the screenplay from Scott B. Smith (based on his own novel) to give us an exciting, dread filled ride into unknown terror. Best of all, where so many similar films preying on the tourist’s fear of foreign places opt to make the people of those places the villainous presence, The Ruins unearths a far more ancient antagonist than anyone living near the Mexican jungle.
I’m honestly not a huge fan of supernatural horror, if that’s what you can call this one. Either way, there are only a certain number of these types of movies I genuinely enjoy. Many of them classics of the genre. Regardless, I have an affinity for stories about ruins, of any type. Their history, the possibly alternate history of what we know, there are so many incredible stories behind a lot of these monoliths, megaliths, and other structures. This story involves the Mayan temples, so depending on what you read there is a plethora of ways this can play in your mind. Part of why The Ruins works is because there’s a slight mystery. Despite getting plenty eeriness involved with the ruins in question, the vines and whatever grows inside and around them, there’s still a lingering mysterious nature to what’s happening. We’re never fully explained anything. Rather, we glean the terrifying nature of whatever lurks in those ruins via the Mexican locals surrounding the temple, their actions. On top of everything else a main factor in the deaths of most characters is paranoia. Once the madness of the plot really kicks into gear there’s all sorts of second guessing, paranoid thought, and general insanity. In fact, only one character is actually killed by the vines. I didn’t realize that until watching it once more this time around, yet there we have it. So there’s an interesting quality to a movie about an evil growth inside the Mayan ruins that defers most of its horror kills to an entirely human element.
Added to that writing does some interesting stuff with the characters. While I felt they could’ve been developed a bit more there is solid tension created between them. For instance, Amy (Jena Malone) tries to kiss Mathias (Joe Anderson) while she has a boyfriend, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker). Then Mathias ends up falling down that shaft and getting injured. So there’s this weird aspect where Amy feels for him yet still loves her boyfriend. This doesn’t get explored enough, though it’s interesting as an additional element to all the paranoia that ends up coming out later.
I dig the effects, too. We get a quick head explosion within the initial 25 minutes, so that’s never a bad sign when we’re talking horror. That whole part is great, as the guy gets hit with an arrow, followed by a slight silence, followed by getting his head blown off. A nasty, true genre effect. Not sure, but the headshot looks CGI, and still it’s well done. They don’t linger on any close-ups too much. It’s a nice effect that works, as this then sends the rest of the group up onto the temple, ensuring there’s immediate suspense to the location.
One of the most devastating moments – to me – is when Mathias falls down the shaft of the temple into complete darkness. It’s such a subtle moment that could’ve been louder, more brash. Anderson doesn’t even scream, he just drops into the darkness and lands with a cracking thud, a small noise. All around an unsettling moment, which then of course gets things going in terms of tension.
Things only deteriorate amongst the group, all the while those nasty vines work their way – literally – under their skin. And of course ours, as well. When Stacy (Laura Ramsey) wakes up with the vines pushing into her leg, then Jeff also finds Mathias in the same state, it is horrendous. Almost verges on body horror, so there are many aspects which play into the film overall. Some time afterwards they wind up having to amputate a leg from poor Mathias. You can imagine how sloppy things get. Even scarier is when the vines come out to take the chopped off shins and feet. They assimilate it, and the group really discovers the sinister side of this awful vacation.
Another absolutely scary bit is after the flowers on the vines start repeating Stacy, screaming in their high pitched, growling voices. It’s such a creepy scene that always makes me cringe, as the sound gets louder, more abrasive, more chilling.
Even if the characters could’ve used more development, the actors do well with the material. I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Tucker specifically ever since The Black Donnellys, he did a wildly unsettling turn on Hannibal. Here he plays a normal guy, an M.D. hopeful (who even gets to put some of his knowledge to use). He doesn’t fall into all the classic horror movie tropes, though some of the others do at times. Aside from him the others are decent, Shawn Ashmore is solid, Joe Anderson, too. Jena Malone’s performance is another I enjoy because her character is complex, conflicted, so with all that and this completely disastrous vacation there’s a wealth of emotion in her.
This is definitely worthy of 3&1/2-stars. There are certainly aspects in the screenplay that could be improved, and some of the acting does border on cliche. Although on the whole The Ruins is intense, it’s suspenseful. There aren’t really jump scares, so much as there’s a generally pervasive air of dread that’s present from the moment this group wanders into the jungle. With an interesting premise, the story worms inside your head the way the paranoia does to these characters, how the vines crawl under the skin of its victims. You can do a lot worse than this interesting horror. At least it tries to do something different without having to fill the script with expository dialogue, big explanations. We do get bits and pieces. Otherwise, the mystery is perpetual right to the end, and this only helps all the creeping, crawling horror of the vine-y creatures. What has a supernatural air to it also comes along with body horror, paranoia, violence, and lots of other macabre delights.
NBC’s Hannibal Season
3, Episode 7: “Digestivo”
Directed by Adam Kane
Written by Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot
* For a review of the next episode, “The Great Red Dragon” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Dolce” – click here To start, the episode’s title “Digestivo” comes from another part of the formal Italian meal. The literal meaning is, of course, ‘digestif’, which is an alcoholic drink (sweet or bitter) that is drank after a meal; as you can tell, it is meant to help the digestive process. I think Bryan Fuller and Co. chose this particular name for Episode Seven because this is a transitional episode.
We begin at the precarious position in which Vincenzo Natali left us during “Dolce”, where Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) was forced to watch Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) start sawing into Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), right through the forehead. By the end of the episode, we’re miles – literally hundreds of thousands – away from where things started. So, in a way, this episode is the digestif which will help along the process – it helps us to digest the plot and story going forward.
After we pick up, Hannibal is stopped in the midst of his meal preparation (he and Jack were no doubt about to feast on a nice hunk of Will’s grey matter). The new Inspector under Mason Verger’s (Joe Anderson) thumb comes with reinforcements. However, they’re not about to go by the book. They pack up both Hannibal and Will to bring back to Muskrat Farm. Jack is left, along with an officer instructed to “Open him up like he did with the other one.”
Fortunately, Chiyo (Tao Okamoto) is still looking out for Hannibal, and in the process saves Jack – in turn, he gives Chiyo the exact location of where Hannibal is being taken. This speeds things up nicely. The digestif has begun to work its magic.
At the end of “Dolce”, we saw the Hannibal/Will duo hanging upside down like sides of beef, or in this case pork. Mason has had them relocated to Muskrat Farm, where Cordell Doemling (Glenn Fleshler) will begin to ready them for their respective fates.
Hannibal, all smiles, and Will, less smiley, are dressed to the nines and wheeled out to Mason’s beautifully set grand table. There, Hannibal is brought some small appetizers, as Mason remarked earlier (while jabbing his dearly departed father’s pocket blade into Hannibal’s thigh) the naughty doctor was looking “a little lean“; he needed to be fattened up. Meanwhile, it is revealed Cordell will be transplanting Will’s face onto Mason – he will then proceed to eat Dr. Lecter with Will’s face on. Twisted. When Cordell goes to apply some moisturizer to Graham, as he is “looking a little dry“, Will surprisingly takes a nice bite out of Cordell’s face. He spits a hunk of cheek out onto the plate in front of him. There’s certainly lots of fight left in Mr. Graham.
As I said before in one of my previous reviews, I love how Bryan Fuller and Co. have tweaked Mason’s revenge slightly. We got bits of the mandating pigs in Season Two, so I think it’s genius how they decided to make Mason decide on eating Lecter. It works in well with the whole fixation of Mason’s on transubstantiation, the risen Jesus Christ or “The Riz” as Mason so lovingly calls him: for those who don’t know, transubstantiation is the concept in the Roman Catholic Church that by eating the bread and wine at Holy Communion, you are not just figuratively eating the body and blood of Christ, you are literally eating it. The way this plays into Mason’s decision is perfect, as even in the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal he is, while simultaneously a sadistic paedophile, a raving fan of Christianity – mainly Catholicism and how confession can absolve one from their heinous acts. Great work on the adaptation here, once more; I feel I’m wearing that sentence out, but whatever. It’s true. As Will is mostly just waiting around to have his face removed, sitting at the big table and getting in a chat with his old flame Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), there are far more torturous plans for Dr. Lecter. Out where the pigs are kept, Cordell (his face patched up) ties Hannibal up in a pen, amongst the hay and the pig shit. He brands Hannibal at the centre of the back; just the same as any other pig. What I find ironic is how Hannibal ate people for being rude, or rather ‘piggish’. Now we find the cannibal stuck exactly in the metaphorical place of his victims – he is now a pig himself. We get another glimpse at how controlled Hannibal is, most of the time, in his mental process. The pain of the brand barely registers; he closes his eyes and wishes it away. Still, all the time he is awaiting his death, Hannibal flashes those smug, defiant smiles. As if he knows something; something nobody else knows, something we will never know. One thing I really loved about this episode, aside from the obvious intensity and excitement, is how Alana is basically faced with the prospect of watching Will die, horribly, or letting Hannibal go. Though it seems like a quick decision for her, as she comes into the pig pens where Hannibal and Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle) are having a quiet discussion, I think it’s the earlier scene between Alana and Will which really pushes her to action. Will’s shaming of Alana makes her realize that, though there is no doubt Hannibal deserves whatever he gets, and more, by being complicit with what happens to Hannibal (and in turn Will because of the situation) she is no better than him. There’s a lot of morality flying around, and perhaps Will is not perfect when it comes to morals, but what he says works. The moment Hannibal is let free things start to become more terrifying by the moment. But first, before I discuss the finale of the episode and all it entails, let’s take a step back… The part of the episode I found most disturbing was the surrogate – the pig. Now, the reason I found this so effectively creepy and unsettling is because of how vicious it shows Mason to be. We knew this anyways, but in the novel Hannibal there is so much more to Mason, as well as Margot, than we end up with in either the film adaptation, or the series. While Mason is fleshed out more here in the series, obviously, as opposed to the film adaptation of Hannibal directed by Ridley Scott, there are aspects we don’t full-on see too much about.
For instance, we only get a small inkling in the Second Season about Mason’s predilections: he is a terribly sick and violent child molester. That’s where the whole “taking the chocolate” thing comes from, as well as the games he played with Margot when she was little. However, Fuller and Co. have certainly stuck with the whole plot of Mason treating Margot like absolute filth.
What I found disturbing about the whole surrogate scene in “Digestivo” is how it takes things up a notch from the book. Harris’ novel has Margot as infertile, as well as a lesbian, but in the series Mason has actually taken out her reproductive parts – he’s literally ripped the ability to give life out of her. So then by further going ahead and planting Margot’s baby (for those who don’t realize it: the baby is that of Margot and Will – notice how big it is? Looks to be about a 9-10 month old infant + the time jump earlier between Will waking up from a coma and his trip to Italy was 8 months… not hard to put together) into a surrogate, a pig, there’s so much malice. It not only represents just utter disregard for Margot and her feelings, her wishes to have a Verger baby, by having the pig as the surrogate Mason is saying that the pig is more worthy to carry a child with a Verger name than Margot – that the pigs are more family and more Verger than Margot.
It is so vicious that it’s perfect. Worked wonders, these scenes. Especially while the baby is being removed/a face is being removed while Will sits strapped into a medical gurney next to Cordell. Disturbing yet incredibly visual. The imagery here was unreal. BIG TIME SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!
In the novel Hannibal, Margot talks with Hannibal, just like in this episode – he offers to be the scapegoat for Mason’s murder, should Margot decide on committing it. Hannibal tells her it wouldn’t matter for another charge to be laid on him, that he will write a letter boasting about enjoying the murder of Mason Verger; he offers some hair, right from the scalp, to lay in Mason’s hands after he is dead.
I like how Alana Bloom is present here, as opposed to it just being Margot in the novel – seeing Alana rip the hair out of Hannibal’s scalp is a perfect, tiny little blow on her part, at least she get some kind of revenge even if it’s not much. Also, in the novel Margot kills her brother by jamming the eel down his throat, as well as milking his prostate with a cattle prod to gather some viable sperm samples to make a true Verger baby later on.
Here, I like that Margot and Alana had a hand in the murder. I also thought it was just perfect that the eel went on in Mason’s mouth by itself, without being shoved down his throat. Sort of shows how everyone/everything around Mason hates him and knows how disgustingly cruel/sadistic he can be deep down – even the eel wanted to be a part of his death. Very fun, highly macabre stuff in this episode! What a scene left at Muskrat Farm. The end of the episode is what works most wonderfully to me. I won’t spoil how Will is sprung loose, however, Hannibal brings his dear friend back home, lays him in bed. Chiyo and Hannibal have a brief chat outside – Lecter tells her she is stable, on the periodic table of elements “between iron and silver“.
Inside, Lecter tries to take things back to the old days: him in the chair, Will laying back and recounting his darkest thoughts. Unfortunately for Hannibal, his friend does not want the friendship anymore. Will has realized, after all that’s happened, no matter how bad he feels close to Hannibal they are no good together, in any way. Will tells him that he doesn’t want to know where Hannibal is, he won’t look for him, because he does not want to know where he is; he has had enough. Clearly hurt, Hannibal leaves to seemingly vanish. Jack Crawford and the FBI show up, but Will says that Lecter is gone. Hannibal willingly surrenders. He gloats in his own way, telling Jack: “You’ve finally caught the Chesapeake Ripper.”
Jack replies by saying Hannibal wasn’t caught, he gave himself up. Hauntingly, Dr. Lecter looks at Jack first, then Will and says: “I want you to know exactly where I am. That way, you can always find me.” To hear that – to see Hannibal in this Fuller and Co. adaptation of Thomas Harris giving himself up willingly – is so refreshing. It is the truly disturbed, sick, haunted relationship between Will and Hannibal which drives everything. Will hurt Hannibal by rejecting further friendship and saying he didn’t care where Lecter ended up.
Therefore, Hannibal spited Will by turning himself in, so that the thought of knowing exactly where he’d be, locked in a cell somewhere, would always be with Will. That way, Hannibal ensures he will always be a part of Will’s life.
The most exciting part is the next episode – “The Great Red Dragon” – because there’s a time jump. We go forward, and yet somehow backward (to Harris’ work in a sense). We’ll get to see exactly how haunted Will is when Jack has to pull him back into a murder investigation, and how desperate will it make them: desperate enough to go see Dr. Lecter again?
Stay tuned and check out for Episode Eight’s review!
Will goes on a trip, and Mason Verger plans his revenge.
Horns. 2014. Dir. Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Keith Bunin; based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, and David Morse. Mandalay Pictures.
120 minutes. Rated R.
Horror can often look like a tired genre. The heyday of 1970s psychological horror and 1980s slashers passed quickly, while birthing some extremely talented artists. This period gave way to a fairly unoriginal decade throughout the 90s. However, since the year 2000 there have been some new horror directors stepping out of the shadows to reclaim the genre.
One in particular is French director Alexandre Aja. He got his first big break with his French horror Haute Tension (English title: High Tension), which brought him to the attention of American horror master Wes Craven. Aja was given the privilege of remaking Craven’s own The Hills Have Eyes: one of the only worthy horror remakes in recent memory.
Horns, based on the best-selling novel by author Joe Hill whose famous father happens to be Stephen King, is Aja’s newest film, and for the most part it is a very fun, very wild ride.
Horns is about a man named Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) who recently lost his girlfriend Merrin (Temple). She was brutally murdered, and everyone thinks Ig did the deed. After some time Ig caves and sleeps with an old friend of his while drinking heavily. The next morning, to his horror, Ig discovers two horns have started to sprout out of his temples—all of a sudden people start telling him things he never asked to hear. From one person to the next, Ig hears everyone’s dark, dirty secrets. At first it seems more of a burden, but soon he decides to use his newly discovered persuasiveness to root out his girlfriend’s murderer and prove his innocence.
The story itself is wonderfully weird. I’m a fan of Stephen King myself, and knowing now Hill shares his father’s predilection for the macabre I will most certainly be picking up a copy of Horns to read, as well as other books.
There’s just enough horror to keep it in the genre, but this story really works because of its humour. Ig hears his share of disturbing tales and sadness due to the horns, but it’s the comedy that comes out of a few conversations that really got to me. I’m not a huge horror-comedy fan, but this script worked well enough with both elements.
Though Hill did not write the screenplay, it’s easy to see he and his father are drawn to similar stories; the flashbacks to Ig’s childhood are reminiscent of some scenes from King’s novel It, both in setting and tone. While the comparisons are there, Hill is most certainly his own man. I’m hoping some of his other work will end up being adapted soon enough.
My personal favourite part of Horns is Daniel Radcliffe. For one, the guy does a near flawless American accent. A lot of British actors play Americans on film, but Radcliffe is one of the few who can slip into the accent and never waver. Juno Temple does a fine job as well. This film, though, is all Radcliffe. His performance is incredible. Always determined to shed the perpetual image of Potter, here he hurls curse words, strips down to nothing, and conveys every shade of emotion on the spectrum. But more than that, he’s natural. Nothing about his performance feels forced.
I was always a fan, but after Horns I can definitively say I think Radcliffe is one of the best young actors out there. In the final act of the film he acts circles around everyone else on screen.
I would highly recommend this film to anybody. If you’re a horror fan, Aja provides a few creepy little bits to satisfy true genre lovers. For those who aren’t so inclined, Hill’s story is actually a beautiful romance disguised as a horror-comedy. If you let it, Horns will grab hold of you. My only complaint about the film is its use of CGI. Though there are a few really graphic bits where Aja sticks to practical effects, a lot of the film’s finale was very plastic looking. There was no other way to really do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t look all that good. Unfortunately, these few effects near the end really take away from some of the film’s emotional weight. I found myself not caring as much about what happened in the last five minutes as I did about just making it to the end credits. That being said, it did not ruin the film. It’s another great step in Alexandre Aja’s career as an interesting and important director of modern horror.