If you’re a hardcore horror fan like me, then you probably feel like you’ve seen and done just about everything there is in the genre. You want to be scared again. You crave it. You need it. You’d do anything to get it. So, what if you got the chance to participate in a dangerous game that allowed you to live out a real-life slasher? While the film itself won’t give you that kind of scare, that’s the premise at the heart of Ruin Me…
…Directed by Preston DeFrancis (his first feature) and written by DeFrancis & Trysta A. Bissett (A Teacher’s Obsession), Ruin Me tells the story of Alex (Marcienne Dwyer) who tags along with her boyfriend, Nathan (Matt Dellapina) for a game called Slasher Sleepout, which is essentially an outdoors escape room in the middle of the woods, where the campers are hunted by deranged “killers”. Everything is sunshine and horror movie fun at first, until the game becomes a little too real, and the campers realize they may not make it out alive.
For a film inspired by slashers, with plenty of horror film references to go around the campfire, Ruin Me fails in all the ways that most modern slashers do. The kills are boring and forgettable. The gore/effects are scarce and unremarkable. The characters are largely unlikeable. The villain(s) have a bad fashion sense. And perhaps the greatest sin of all, the film is way too dark to be any fun. That last bit isn’t necessarily a criticism, as I love a good, dark horror film, but the problem is that if you really want to make a great slasher, dark isn’t the angle you want to go for. Just look at the Friday the 13th franchise or A Nightmare on Elm Street. While those and most films that released during the golden age of slashers, the 80s, were gruesome and sometimes terrifying, they always had one thing in common: they were FUN. Between the over the top death scenes and cheesy dialogue, the audience knew that they were supposed to be having a good time, no matter how much blood was being splashed across the silver screen.
Ruin Me, however, takes itself far too seriously. It’s one thing if the film isn’t trying to play off the slasher genre. But the first half is littered with nods to all of your standard horror topes. You’ve got Larry (Chris Hill), the guy dropping horror movie one-liners like he learned the English language by watching the Scream films. There’s the sex crazed girl Marina (Eva Hamilton), doing her best Linnea Quigley from Return of the Living Dead impression by stripping to get the party started. And let’s not forget the character that modern slashers just can’t seem to live without, the asshole, Pitch (John Odom). Hell, you even have the quiet, mysterious guy who could be in on the whole thing, Tim (Cameron Gordon). Couple that with the game, based on slasher movies, with a clichéd storyline involving an escaped mental patient, and all of it oozes potential as a throwback to the slasher films we all love, when the characters were fun and the kills were something to look forward to. Unfortunately, you won’t find any of that in Ruin Me.
That’s the bad with Ruin Me. The good is that, while it may not be the callback to slashers that horror fans are hoping for, it’s also not your standard, uninspired modern slasher either. What Ruin Me does really well is that it toys with the audience and our predictions. DeFrancis and Bissett seem to know what horror fans are expecting, and they do their best to turn those expectations on their head every chance they get. The order of the body count does not go the way one would think, and the film often takes turns that you as the viewer likely won’t see coming. This is especially true towards the end, where Ruin Me really becomes a maze of madness, transforming from a slasher film into dark, psychological terror territory. As the host (deliciously played by Rocky Rector) states in the beginning, the point of the game is to ruin you, and the third act lives up to that promise. You’ll find yourself in a tug of war between insanity and confusion that doesn’t let up until the final seconds.
Speaking of those final seconds, the kills in Ruin Me may not be all that memorable, but the ending sure as hell is. It’s a little convoluted (see the spoiler below), and will take some pondering on whether or not it makes sense, because it’s pretty damn farfetched. Regardless, the final scene is something to remember. Its dark, gritty, and straight up depressing. That being said, a great film, in any genre, does not rely on its twist alone. Ruin Me does. Without it, the film is unstylistic, by the numbers horror fare that you’d probably forget minutes into the first beer of the weekend. A great film has to be great from beginning to end, with the twist as the icing on the cake. I love icing as much as the next near-diabetic sugar addict, but you want yourself some actual cake with your, uh, cake.
(SPOILER) What I really don’t get is the whole thing involving Alex’s secret lover, Jared (Sam Ashdown). You’re telling me that Nathan kidnapped him, brought him all the way to the middle of the woods, and set up an elaborate trap involving Jared and Alex, snagged Jared again (somehow) while Alex wasn’t looking, pretended it didn’t happen to see if Alex would admit who the guy was that she saw, NOT that she slept with him, then planned on dropping him back off at a bar somewhere, and that the Slasher Sleepout crew was cool with this? Gives you a headache just thinking about it, right? Yeah, I’m not buying it either. Though my refusal to buy into this doesn’t change my perception of the power in Alex finally going mad, it does certainly hurt the impact of it. Believability is key, and Nathan’s plot is just way too out there to accept. (END SPOILERS)
By the time the last drop of blood in Ruin Me was spilled, I found myself wishing that DeFrancis would have just taken a little more time in amping up the excitement of the first two acts. The third act is such a wild ride, crashing through a room full of funhouse mirrors, that I wonder how much better the experience could have been had the rest of the film taken a little more pleasure in the inherent fun of its premise. Ruin Me fails miserably at being the enjoyable slasher film that it sets itself out to be, but as far as the tamer slashers of the modern era go, it may be worth seeing for the twisty third act alone.
Ruin Me is available now on Shudder.
By Matt Konopka
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