Isaac Thorne reviews Ruin Me (2017)
Ever since Scream (1996) made it acceptable to poke fun at slasher movie tropes from inside another slasher movie, horror screenwriters and producers have been looking for ways to exploit the storytelling technique. It has been exploited so much, in fact, that the poking fun at tropes has itself become a trope. For this reason, I’ll refer to the technique henceforth as the meta-trope. Two decades following the Wes Craven film’s release, we still get movies like 2015’s The Final Girls. In the past year, the meta-trope has expanded into other genres, like last month’s Groundhog Day (1993) slasher mashup Happy Death Day, which directly references its resemblance to the Bill Murray comedy more than once.
The meta-trope has not been ignored by independent makers of horror. Both Circus Kane, which I have previously reviewed, and Ruin Me depend on at least one character among the group of potential slasher victims being familiar with traditional slasher film tropes. To know how the game is rigged is important to the survival of the group. Naturally, their confidence in their knowledge of how slasher films work gets them out of the first few simple traps, only to trip them up later on because whoever is running the game inevitably changes the rules in the middle of it all.
Given the wealth of meta-trope movies out there now, it’s easy to feel as bored by that technique as audiences coming out of the late 1980s and early 1990s felt about the traditional slasher. We’ve seen it all before, and now we’re seeing it all again because it’s funny to create a slasher that’s aware that it’s a slasher. Or so some producers seem to think. The good news, though, is that there are filmmakers who are capable of tackling the meta-trope (again) in fun and interesting ways. Such is the case with director Preston DeFrancis’ Ruin Me, the 2017 film from Terror Weekend Productions.
Ruin Me centers its story around a young couple, Alex (Marcienne Dwyer) and Nathan (Matt Dellapina), who are on their way to a weekend getaway haunt known as Slasher Sleepover. The event is billed as an extreme haunt in which the participants are required to sign a waiver acknowledging that they will be touched and punished in other ways throughout their 36-hour stay. Alex joins Nathan in place of Nathan’s friend Graham, who is sick.
When they arrive at the pre-arranged Slasher Sleepover meet-up spot, Alex and Nathan encounter a goth couple, Pitch (John Odom) and Marina (Eva Hamilton), who happen to be two of three experts among the group of haunt-goers. Pitch and Marina are experienced with haunts. They are therefore adept at looking for clues to help guide the group out of this one. Nerdy haunt-goer Larry (Chris Hill), on the other hand, is the resident expert in slasher movie tropes. Rounding out the group is the strong, silent type Tim (Cameron Gordon), who almost immediately becomes the focus of Marina’s sexual advances, much to Pitch’s chagrin.
You might guess, based on what you know so far, that members of the group are going to be picked off one-by-one as the remainder try to find their way out. At first, they’ll think the murders and evidence they’ve seen are all part of the game. Then one of them will start to believe it’s not a game, and try to without success to convince the others that the murders are real. You are correct in this assessment. Alex has a past that is revealed to us slowly through dreams and memories. It is also her past that causes Nathan to attempt to calm her fears by telling her it’s all in her head and asking her repeatedly whether she has taken her medication. Is Alex really going crazy, or is she being driven there on purpose?
Although this is a story we’ve all seen before, Ruin Me is an interesting watch. It is well photographed. The special effects and sound are professional and well done. The acting is wonderful and as believable as an actor in a Hollywood horror production. I found myself invested in Alex’s well-being and her relationships with the other characters. In fact, Dwyer’s Alex and Hamilton’s Marina are the top performances in this film. The third in that list is Tom Harryman, who plays The Hobo. The story is entertaining and moves along at good pace. There’s nothing about the film that feels like time filler. There’s also plenty of violence along with some old-fashioned slasher film sex and nudity, for those who like slasher films for those specific reasons.
I do have a few gripes with Ruin Me. I might have cast Dellapina in the role of Jared and Sam Ashdown in the role of Nathan, instead of the other way around. Ashdown, whose character Jared appears primarily in dreams and memories, emotes more convincingly and might have been a bit more believable in the final scene between Alex and Nathan. The plot devices, such as the riddles the group must solve to find their way to the end, are clever. As a viewer, I like to participate in the puzzle solving with the characters on screen. Sometimes I figure it out before them, sometimes I don’t, and that’s all well and good. However, some of the puzzles in this film were a bit too convoluted and, therefore, uninteresting to participate in with the characters.
Another issue I have is the obligatory 911 call that is eventually made from the middle of the danger zone. I wish screenwriters would research 911 emergency call procedures and listen to some actual transcripts before attempting to write 911 into a scene. Even watching an old episode of Cops might be helpful. Ruin Me is certainly not the first film to get this wrong, but I found myself annoyed at how wrong it was in this situation. If this were real life, the 911 operator in Ruin Me would have been immediately fired and strewn all over the evening news.
That said, I truly enjoyed Ruin Me. I would watch it again. It is an hour and a half of light among a bleak couple of decades of Scream-influenced fare.