The Ruins: Poison Ivy (postdate:2008)

In Five Words or Less:

Boring title, good movie.

In More than Five Words, with / without spoilers:

In 1998, Sam Raimi adapted Scott Smith’s debut sensation A Simple Plan (1993) for us, and, though a lot of the narrator’s nuances were lost in the compression, still, Smith had written a strong enough dramatic spine that his story survived the transition, and made Paramount some money. Ten years later, now, Ron Howard has adapted Smith’s sophomore novel The Ruins to the screen, and though he didn’t have a Billy Bob Thornton to anchor the cast, still, the finished product is perhaps even more compelling. Not to slight Howard here either, but it’s really Smith that deserves the credit for this, as The Ruins, though a largely ‘internal’ novel (as was A Simple Plan—it was Hank’s desperate rationalizing which led us to identify with him), owes a lot more to Aristotle’s rules of drama than most novels on the shelf: it’s got unity of place (one hill); unity of time (three days); and economy of character (six).

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A Sentimental Education: Saw 6

One of the big axioms of storytelling is that you know a character best by the decisions he or she makes under extreme circumstances. It’s why you push your characters out into the street, see how they react when traffic’s slamming in from all sides at once. Granted, you can rig your story so that it’s all kitchen sink drama, low-key enough that ‘extreme circumstances’ gets redefined as a standoff about who’s going to answer a ringing phone, but that kind of slow-handed approach, yeah, it takes a while, right? And Saw VI here, it clocks in at a cool ninety minutes, including credits, and has just a host of characters, meaning that, first, there’ll be no going slow here, and, second, in lieu of taking time to ‘know’ these characters, we’ll just jump straight into the extremest circumstances possible, know those characters immediately. Some of them from the inside-out, yeah. Okay: most of them.

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State of the Slasher Address

Man, came home Friday after watching Prom Night, just all conflicted and twitchy from it, and then the next morning woke early, slammed down an essay-thing about it, and then of course hit the wrong button, lost it all, so, when I finally had time (that night), I re-did what of it I could, and bam, now it’s up at PopMatters, one of the sites I respect the most:

Author Stephen Graham Jones looks into the disappointments of the Prom Night remake, finds pause to reflect back on the past of the slasher film and sees a glimmer of hope for the future.

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Stay Off the Grass Deadly Ruins

Man, I got the year right for The Ruins anyway, back when. And this is another non-review, yeah. Specifically, one with spoilers. Anyway, yeah, Scott Smith pretty much proves that it’s not always a bad idea to let the author be the one to make that book-to-screen jump. He nails it, I mean. I guess there’s something to be said for knowing the material. Not here to say Good job though. Not only that anyway. Just because the end of the movie version of the The Ruins doesn’t quite work, I don’t think. Not saying a (UK-) The Descent ending would have been in order, but, c’mon: just because this is a crawling, leafy slasher, that doesn’t mean it’s not a slasher, right? Which is to say the real narrative escalation happens in the last frames: “What, Michael’s not laying there dead anymore?” Something along those lines, which suggests that what’s happened is that Michael’s scurried out of that world on-screen, has maybe found a way into ours. That’s what The Ruins needed. Says the back-seat driver, yeah. The armchair quarterback. But surely somebody must have at least suggested this, right? It just seems so obvious — and here comes the spoilage: at the end, when the Greeks finally bumble out to the these ruins to save the day, instead of just having them look up this vine-swaddled pyramid, the whole movie about to happen again, just starring them now, why not escalate, why not just keep the camera in one place as they walk across that salted earth, so that we can see these unharmless red flowers opening behind them? Watching them, tracking them. The idea, the certainty, being that Amy, our Marilyn Burns here, when she split out of there, she was inadvertently — selfishly (Spock would never do this, though, yes, 28 Weeks Later definitely would/does) — playing some hybrid of Johnny Appleseed and Typhoid Mary. Which is to say that this vine, this ancient, bloody, hungry, unstoppable vine, it’s finally, after all these years, broken through its salt-barrier, outwitted its generations of Mayan guards. And now there’s not enough salt in the world to hold it back. All that’s left is for it to take root way up the Borneo, wait for the anaconda population there to get a taste for its sticky sweet fruit. Or some could even drift out to Skull Island; it’d fit right in with the citizens there.

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Trick or Treat

Just three four FIVE fast things, as I’m spending most of the day being properly foolish:

  • What I wouldn’t give to be hitting this haunted house.
  • That Asimov’s with my “do(this)” is on the shelves (the cover’s below the fold here, here. click it to go to the site).
  • This is great (“Reaper Madness”).
  • I’ve got a post over at Slushpile today, here.
  • The NBA’s going again, which, you’d think it’d greatly slow down the thing I’m writing right now (a slasher screenplay), but, it usually works the other way. Kobe & Co. pretty much just serve to remind me that writing’s what I do. Or, I mean, what I do, anyway, it’s definitely not basketball, at least not how they play it.
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    Slasher Prerequisites

    Working on a new slasher right now, and leaning towards making it a screenplay, mainly so the form can keep it reined in for me, somewhat. Too, this time, I’m doing what I’ve never done: thinking it all through ahead of time. Which has involved a lot of re-watching, a lot of thinking. And, on the idea that reasoning from first principles (or at least memory) is somehow a pure way to get to something at least in the area of truth, I’ve been intentionall ducking Carol Clover and all the other slasher analyses out there. Just because I want to figure out what the slasher is, not simply agree with people smarter than me. And, here’s what I’ve got so far — those pieces without which a slasher isn’t really a slasher, and in no really good order :

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    Severance

    severance poster

    Movies like this just make me break out my lists, look for a place to wedge this movie, so it can be that much closer to my heart. Which, I know it’s got to be an almost-empty statement by now, but, using Feast as my touchstone, and acknowledging that Leslie Vernon was the best since, and Save the Green Planet the best since Leslie Vernon, then, Severance, it’s the best since Green Planet, for me. Just did every last single thing right, I think. I mean, no, it’s not a true slasher (there’s no real red herring), but it’s pure horror-comedy fun, anyway. Nothing but good. In the extra features, the director says how the difficult thing with horror-comedy is getting the tone right — a balance, I think, of gore and whether or not the characters kind of know or act like they’re in a comedy. Severance hits that balance perfectly: funny stuff happens (the bear trap scene is about the best thing I’ve seen ever), but the characters just keep screaming and running. Unlike, say, in Decampitated, very fun its own right, but operating at a different level, with a different tone.

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    Conditional Axe

    Jeff Stolarcyk over at Conditional Axe has some bad news: Trick R’ Treat, much like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, has been bumped to some indefinite time later. Very sad. Now Saw 4‘ll have to do. But I trust it will, too. A very tight series so far, I think. And, just back from Resident Evil: Extinction,* and same for it: excellent; high marks for the whole . . . I guess trilogy so far, though ‘series’ might work too. I suspect ‘trilogy,’ though, just because the way RE3 ends, it’s that old slasher way of escalating to some ridiculous height all at once, story-wise, and thus making the audience just really sure that this time there’s no way the story can go on. But then of course by next season we’re ready for just any contrivance at all to please please please give us that next installment. You say an electrified bat dropped out of the sky, bit the slashed slasher on the eyeball and injected him with mutant zombie rabies just right after the credits, when we were all walking out of the theatre? Cool. Excellent. Now roll it.

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    I Won’t Be Back : What T3 Could Have Been

    Third installments of a franchise the audience is in love with are very difficult to pull off. Nobody says Alien3 or Return of the Jedi or the third Scream are their favorites of the series, right? Even Godfather III, as good as it might be, is overshadowed by the first two. Granted, by the third installment, the success of the original and its sequel have given this latest incarnation a serious budget to work with, and all the marketing is in place, and some of the principal actors are probably even still signed on, but—for this sequel to the sequel to capture instead of divide the audience, it has to walk such a tightrope of formula and originality; it has to do what the original did and find a way of doing it which isn’t tired. This is why the two follow-ups to The Matrix, while pretty brilliant in their own right, at all levels—story continuity, effects, series escalation—still paled in comparison to the original. What The Matrix did, which just blew the audience away, was show how this reality we’d bought into was a construct. The next two installments could no longer surprise us with that, but instead had to assume it, and try to pull the carpet out in some other, more subtle way. In fact, the only ‘third’ that might have done for the audience what the original did was Friday the 13th’s, the one where Jason got his mask. Which Terminator 3, following the unapologetic slashers Terminator and Terminator 2 were, might should have paid a little attention to*. But yeah, I know: without James Cameron’s story sense, that is, with him saying the story was already told, what else could have happened, right? I mean, Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, what it is essentially is an extension of everything Cameron laid down in the first two installments. So how could it have gone wrong?

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