This Shudder Exclusive Ruin Me is a multi-layered scary movie that truly stuns with its surprises. Spoilers ahead!
In the vein of that fantastic Eliza Dushku movie Soul Survivors or the slyly referenced Shutter Island, this film lulls you into the comfortable world of a predictable slasher and then shoves a life-size funhouse mirror in front of you. All good twists require the viewer to be completely involved in the misdirect. In this case, the misdirection is the assumption that this is indeed a simple horror weekend escape/camp out mashup. The fellow scare weekend guests are cartoonish and predictably fill the ridiculous roles required in any horror film. The freaky goth guy that knows too much(think the goth tech support guy from iZombie), the oversexed girl who takes her clothes off for no reason, the bumbling buffoon, the attentive boyfriend and the damsel in distress. In addition, there is the necessary weird old forest guy and smattering of masked bad guys. All of this is intended to distract and even annoy so you are in just the right place for the final reveal.
The men in her life are a nightmare in and of themselves. Too much male superiority and not enough actual help. Her boyfriend tries to be a caring nurturing guy who only wants to save her but in reality, he is Skeet Ulrich from Scream and a total shit show. If trying to kill and control your girlfriend makes you a great boyfriend than he is top dog. Luckily our girl doesn’t need saving and takes care of her own business. She, unfortunately, falls victim to her obsession with a bad boy who is not helpful to either her sobriety or her plight. He’s super cute and seems to actually be the better boyfriend though, so I can’t say I blame her. One minor complaint that is not so much a complaint as it is an incongruity. If Alex and her previous boyfriend are both heroin addicts how do they look so healthy? Jared, in particular, is one fine specimen, but we are to believe he is a hardcore addict. Unless he just became an addict two weeks ago on his way home from the gym where he works out daily his character does not quite fit the bill. To be honest I don’t really care about that though as the “kids” from Scream were all adults and looked like adults and who wants to look at some broke down junky?
Part mystery and part slasher this movie keeps you guessing until the very end. Is she crazy? Are all the people in on the extreme betrayal? Is she going to get clean now? Lots of little hints get dropped early on that things are not what they seem. Alex has bizarre flashbacks and Nathan’s attention verges on oppression to name just a few. The film works because we want it to. The concept of a free for all escape horror room in the woods that lasts days but turns murderous is great. The writing by Bissett and DeFrancis prey on this deep-seeded fear we all have of just this sort of thing happening in a haunted house or extreme haunt like McKamey Manor which was just recently featured on Netflix and New Zealand journalist David Farrier’s Dark Tourist. The familiarity of the horror archetypes only adds to that fear. It feels familiar and expected so the inevitable deaths are anticipated. This anticipation breeds tension which propels the movie forward.
Director and writer Preston DeFrancis and writer Trysta Bissett do a good job writing a concise script. The dialogue save a few clunky lines here and there, is believable and allows the actors to assume the characters identities and personalities. There are genuinely some laugh out loud moments that make this movie fun. The first half of the movie is full of ridiculous comments about sex and raccoons and extra dork phones. Chris Hill is a gem as Momma’s boy nerd Larry. John Odom has some classic moments as his psychopathic emo-goth guy Pitch goes off the rails. Those performances alone make the movie worth a watch. Marcienne Dwyer does an admirable job bouncing back and forth between confusion and guilt. She is obviously the hero or final girl from the beginning but her secrets allow her to become more an enigma than a victim clear through the end. The setting is eerie and makes great use of natural surroundings. The woods are just the right amount of majestic and isolated to convey the danger these people are in. The puzzles are clever but simple enough that these shlubs could figure it out. The drowning, spike contraption on the beach is very inventive and the payoff was satisfying.
For a low budget film, this is entertaining and creative. Part Saw, Scream, The Final Girls and Friday the Thirteenth it hearkens back to the eighties where the killers are dastardly but funny and the scares are slow motion and bloody as opposed to psychological. Taken in context this is a great movie that doesn’t take itself to seriously all while being smarter than it appears. The contraptions and puzzles are quite clever. Overlook the unanswered questions of what Alex and Jared “did” that warranted discussion right in the middle of a kidnapping-murder scheme and the few too many how we did it setups and you will enjoy this movie. If you can avoid the minutia and just enjoy the ride it’s like a carnival ride that creaks a bit and sways more than it should but that is all part of the fun. You are never quite sure if it will completely fall apart or just break down. That’s okay because that’s what you bought a ticket for.
Solid performance and the beach contraption alone warrant 3 stars. It’s only available on Shudder so if you haven’t already subscribed now is the time. Use this link and the code SIGNAL to receive a full month free. That’s much longer than the current promotion. Let us know what you thought. Did you enjoy this movie too? Hit us up on Facebook and Twitter and let us know.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.