REVIEW: Ruin Me
– By Allan Lear
Possibly as a result of information overload consequent on the invention of the internet, but more likely because people are useless and lazy, there is a tendency amongst humans to assume that anything they, personally, have not seen before is “new”. This was commented on by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, who remarked that children who had read his Discworld series would complain to him that he had ‘ripped off’ the work of JK Rowling, only to be dumbfounded when he pointed out that his books had, in many cases, been published over a decade before.
Of course, Sir Terry himself confessed that the idea of a “wizarding school” (or, in his case, university) was ages old already; most people will be familiar with The Sword in the Stone, in which Merlin tutors young pre-King Arthur. The Disney version of this story is based on a TH White book, which itself is based on Malory’s much older La Morte d’Arthur, and so on all the way back.
Only the other day a friend was remarking on how much they loved the fourth-wall-breaking “meta humour” of a television show, and I pointed out that the first example of this I was aware of dated all the way back to Shakespeare: in Twelfth Night, when the conspirators have persuaded Malvolio to make a twat of himself, Fabian turns to Sir Toby and remarks, “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction”. Another friend then claimed that the device dated all the way back to Ancient Greece and Aristophanes’ play The Frogs, but since he’d only googled it and didn’t know what he was talking about I was still best.
Ruin Me has been touted in some circles as the spiritual successor to Scream, as though before Wes Anderson’s pastiche of rote slasher tropes nobody had ever thought of subverting a genre before. The premise is a simple fission of binary realities. A chap is treated by his loving and, it must be said, remarkably willing girlfriend to a weekend of X-TREME!!! frolics being the victim of a carefully-plotted slasher film scenario. It’s like those lock-in rooms that are popular at the moment, where you get plonked in a heavily diluted version of Saw and have to solve puzzles to get out of the room before the time runs out or face mild internet derision. The essential differences are a) they aren’t locked in anywhere and b) instead of puzzles they get chainsaws waved in their faces.
Having thus laid the groundwork for a film in which nothing will be scary because you know that all of the frights are contrived (which is, of course, what a horror film is anyway), Ruin Me then sets out to undo your security by blurring the line between what happens in the game and what happens that is unrelated to the game. Characters run across nasty accidents; the safe word fails to trigger a rescue attempt; corpses are found dripping in trees; sexual harassment; tattoos. A handjob is offered where a blowjob was hoped for. All these horrors and more.
As you’ll have gathered, it’s essentially a horror version of eXistenZ, with two exceptions. Firstly, eXistenZ and its stupid bloody orthography exist within science fiction, where the blending of reality and questions of identity have been a staple ever since Philip K Dick first woke screaming for his mother. Secondly, eXistenZ is shit.
Ruin Me is not shit. Ruin Me is actually pretty good. It’s well-acted in the main, with particularly good performances from Marcienne Dwyer (as the horror movie virgin who winds up Designated Final Girl) and Matt Delapina (as the hapless boyfriend for whom all this bollocks was supposedly arranged). Eva Hamilton does what she can with the role of Bitchy Goth Girl Who Is A Goth Because She Is Bitchy Or Vice Versa, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and her partner – John Odom’s “Pitch”, whose name you will think is “Bitch” for at least half the film – is a distressingly one-note creation of barely-contained contempt for counterculture, which is possibly supposed to be satirical but is presented as humourlessly as an accountant’s funeral. But Chris Hill’s Larry, the annoying comedy bastard who insists on cracking jokes at the worst possible moments, is a genuinely fun and complex creation who moves between being the best one in the group to perving weirdly over the girls while never stealing the title of “biggest douchehole” from Bitch. Sorry, Pitch.
There’s an annoying bit towards the end where the writers cop out of explaining the more whodunnity aspects too. Oh, and the bits at the campfire just go on for ever. But it’s more ambitious and more cinema-literate than most slasher films, it’s got some genuinely interesting puzzles in it for the group to solve, there are some solid laughs – mostly courtesy of Larry – and the mounting sense of hysteria is well evoked by the ensemble, even if the insulating effect of the premise being at one remove from us does get in the way of genuinely cathartic terror on the part of the audience.
Add in the pleasure of seeing character actor Rocky Rector clearly having enormously good fun as a complete and utter shitbag straight out of Bible Belt Horror casting central, and there are enough moments of charm for Ruin Me to be well worth a few hours’ watch. Like Scream, it’s smart without being cerebral, and the amateur cineaste or horror aficionado in the audience will no doubt enjoy the sensation of being in on the joke.