Tagged Jonathan Tucker

Take an Eerie Vacation to The Ruins

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.

POSTER 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.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Version 2003: A Loud & Trashy Remake

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 2003. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the 1974 screenplay by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper.
Starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski, R. Lee Ermey, David Dorfman, Terrence Evans (R.I.P), and Lauren German. Platinum Dunes.
Rated 18A. 98 minutes.

TheTexasChainsawMassacre-2 Now before I get into anything about this film specifically, I want to start by saying I’m one of the most staunchly loyal fans of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I saw it when I was about 12 years old and it totally frightened my balls off. It still does because, ultimately, can you say you’d stand emotionless, cool and calm as a six and a half foot man dressed in the skins of others, wielding a chainsaw, ran at you screaming like a lunatic? No, you’d shit yourself, or run for your life. It’s putting myself into the positions of the characters which gets me scared and what makes the suspense and tension feel real and palpable to me. Putting myself into that position, trying to imagine how I would feel and react, there’s a more visceral response to a horror film. But that’s just me. It doesn’t always work, as some horror movies are plain terrible. However, that’s the way The Texas Chain Saw Massacre continues to strike me up to this day, and each time I watch it there’s that visceral mounting fear inside my chest and throat I got the very first time I’d seen it, on a scratchy VHS tape.
In 2003, Platinum Dunes gave director Marcus Nispel the reigns to tackle a remake of Tobe Hooper’s indie horror classic. Though not modernized, there is most certainly a modern look to the film. Simultaneously flashy and also gritty, this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre does have a nice set of vicious teeth. Problem is, so much of what could’ve been excellent in this remake turned out to be just a cash grab. There’s no real interest in the original, there isn’t much care to preserve anything significant outside of the bare bones and structure. Mostly, this remake is a needlessly sexualized film which substitutes young glistening bodies, mainly Jessica Biel with her tights jeans hugging and hanging on for dear life against her hips, for anything either really innovative or overly impressive. Boasting some fun horror and well-executed gore, as well as general nastiness, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a total waste of time. Just don’t head into this expecting you’ll find the greatness of Hooper lurking anywhere significant.

One thing that truly bugs me to no end about this remake is how Platinum Dunes seems to want to try and teleport cinematically back to the 1980s. What I mean is not in a good sense. The whole angle of DRUGS/MARIJUANA = MARKED FOR DEATH becomes a tired cliche. In the remake of Friday the 13th, an incredibly misfired piece of horror, the same type of trope comes into play. I get that part of the whole subplot between Erin (Jessica Biel) and Kemper (Eric Balfour) is the fact she didn’t know about his smuggling pot along the highways in their van, neatly packed into a piñata. However, having Erin be the only left at the end – just so happens to be the only person who didn’t wanna join in and smoke some weed in the van – is a dumb touch. Maybe intentional, maybe not. Someone along the line should’ve said “This feels too much like old and outdated horror tropes we have to write something better”. They didn’t, and Platinum Dunes seems to want to keep repeating that whenever possible.
It’s like the old slasher movies: if you drink, have sex, smoke, do drugs, you DIE! Frankly, I’m done with those cliches. Worked well for the slasher films of the ’80s, I love so many of them, but now unless it’s a meta-like situation, or postmodern commentary on the sub-genre, I’m just finding it tiring. New films need to find new ways in which to operate. Plus, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre never went by any of those rules, preceding all the ’80s slashers by a half dozen years almost, so I don’t see why they felt the remake needed to lean in that direction.
The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-2003-stills-the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-series-3278048-1400-914Even further, it’s as if the screenwriter wanted to make this version of the movie into a world where the travelling group of young friends somehow deserved whatever they found. At every turn there’s a way to make the group out to be a bunch of city folk coming into the rural communities, acting bigger and better than everyone else. In the original, it was just these regular young guys and girls who ran into absolute horror at the hands of Leatherface and family. For the remake, we get the scene where they stop their van at a gas station in order to call local law enforcement so they can report the girl who killed herself. In this bit, the guys are pushy and they get heated when the woman seems a bit too laid back over everything. Although this might be slightly realistic, there’s still this need for the movie to point and say “THESE ARE THE ONES WHO WILL BE KILLED”. In fact, the only one who cares about not dumping the dead girl like a piece of trash is Erin – and though this does end up drawing them further into the world of Leatherface, it’s still screaming of a dumb morality the remake tries to impose on us.
The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-2003-stills-the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-series-3278049-1400-912I’ve griped quite a bit now about what I don’t like, so let’s electric slide into something I’ve enjoyed about this film.
The gore stands out as being fairly vicious. A few amazing horror movie kills in this one and I don’t think anyone would disagree. While not all the aspects of this remake hold up, I do think they seal the deal with a nice amount of blood and guts.
And it isn’t only the gore, I find there were a few truly unsettling moments. For instance, one of the parts in the original which terrified me is the hammer to the head, then Leatherface wails his creepy voice into the air and slams his metal door. I thought that was SUPER CREEPY! In this one, there’s a very similar bit that makes me feel almost the same. As Kemper (Balfour) walks around the house they’ve come across looking for the sheriff, he knocks something off a door. While bending to pick it up, Leatherface slides in behind him looking so depraved and then he sledgehammers Kemper to the floor – he drags the body away, out to where a big sliding metal door is fixed on the wall. Disappearing inside with the body, Leatherface quickly comes back and slides it shut. So reminiscent of that scene in the original and it’s a genuinely scary bit. Dig it, so hard.
Even further, once Erin (Biel) goes back to the house with one of the other guys looking for Kemper who, of course, has disappeared, there’s another pretty wild and jumpy moment when Leatherface finally and fully reveals himself to the young people. I thought it worked great, as the addition of wheelchair-bound Uncle Monty (Terrence Evans) made it extra weird and creeptastic. His pounding on the floor with the cane, almost a call to action for his little/giant creepy nephew Leatherface, it gives things a real nasty excitement.
Not to mention, the whole hitchhiker scene was subverted from the original in fine fashion. They found a way to make that whole scene fresh for their remake, as well as extremely grim. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw it. One of the biggest things the movie has going for it is the shock you’ll receive during that scene. Disturbing bit. Plus along with that comes some a good little bit of blood and brains, all around nastiness.
the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-2003-jessica-biel-heat1One thing I both hate and love is the way the film looks, the whole aesthetic in general. While there’s this gritty, dirty feel to the cinematography (courtesy of Daniel Pearl who coincidentally did the work on the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre), it also has that overall glossy edited style Platinum Dunes like to force on its remakes. It focuses more on the sweaty bodies of the muscles of the guys, the exposed and glistening midriffs of the women, than truly trying to make the entire atmosphere and tone of the movie into something dark, something nasty. It’s as if everything is working towards that grimy feeling – they almost want you to feel the grit in the back of your mouth on your tongue – and yet still, there’s a television commercial-like quality to so many of the scenes that it’s almost embarrassing at times. I think a lot of that comes in the exterior scenes – especially when the camera rides along right behind Biel’s ass in the purposefully low low cut jeans. Inside the house itself, so much of the scenes are extremely dark that it becomes hard to give it that glossy look. Though, it is still there in certain parts and it bugs the hell out of me. If they’d gone totally head first into that dark and filthy atmosphere, I’d be sold almost 100%. Instead, there’s this weird quality to the cinematography where it balances on this thin edge, often coming too far down on the wrong side for me to fully enjoy the movie.
Overall, I give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s by no means a great movie, not even close. There were elements of the script I felt added something fresh to this remake, however, what ultimately hurts this as a movie is that it confuses the gritty atmosphere and tone at which it aims. Coming out of the Platinum Dunes remake machine, this looks too flashy at times and throws itself off course. There’s nothing that bad about the acting – especially when you throw the fascinatingly creepy R. Lee Ermey into the mix. So mainly, I find it’s the weird and off-balance feeling of the entire film that detracts from this becoming a good movie. Moreover, the focus on Jessica Biel’s ass and body parts, as well as the implication that DRUGS ARE BAD KIDS MMKAY, make so many scenes in this movie laughable. Especially if you compare it then with the first. There’s not near enough to make this a fitting tribute, so if you’re looking for a good remake look elsewhere – Platinum Dunes haven’t got any of those.