My notes on Ruin MeA slasher-themed gimmick drama on the model of David Fincher’s The Game or Fred Walton’s April Fool’s Day, Ruin Me manages to get over the hump selling a charade which becomes real but might still be another charade by zeroing in on one of the players (yes, the ‘final girl’) and building the whole third act around her possible delusions, which mean that either she is being persecuted by genuine psychopaths or she is becoming a real danger to her fellow players and whoever else is in on the act. The coda extends the premise into slightly seamy areas, taking the edge off the fun aspect of the piece – but there’s a core of feeling that makes the home stretch worthwhile and even subversive. Director Preston DeFrancis, who co-wrote with Trysta A. Bissett, layers in a thread about relationships – even seeming asides about favourite films (the fact that a character cites Chaos is more than a giveaway about what kind of shallow horror fan he is) and the possibilities of polyamory (a titillating joke from the token nudity girl which turns out to be a key character point) are relevant to the game being played underneath the game – but also enjoy the post-modern ingenuity of roleplay, down to having a character quoting from Scream or deadpanning ‘a lot of great horror films start at old gas stations’.
There have been a lot of game-led horror films lately – the entire Saw series seems inspired by Mouse Trap and this year’s FrightFest runs to Game of Death and Sequence Break whereas last year’s had Beyond the Gates and Knucklebones – but this abjures baords, dice, cassettes and computers in favour of good old fashioned walking in the woods and deciphering clues in a combination ghost train ride and scavenger hunt. Horror fan Nathan (Matt Dellapina) drags his girlfriend Alex (Marcienne Dwyer) on ‘Slasher Sleepout’, with chatty fat fan Larry (Chris Hill), bickering goths Pitch (John Odom) – ‘as in black’ – and Marina (Eva Hamilton) and simmering silent type Tim (Cameron Gordon). Instructed in the rules by a bullying host (Rocky Rector), the players are sent into the woods with their own specific tools – a gun, a torch, handcuffs, a key, etc – and have to solve puzzles to get clues, with non-horror-aware Alex proving surprisingly adept at word/number games … even as she has real bad memories (a spell in rehab) which overlap with the fantasy scenario involving escaped mental patients and masked murderers. Bodies start piling up or disappearing suspiciously, and the dwindling band of survivors begin to question whether this is fun anymore … and Alex is drugged and wakes up on a beach, ankle-chained to a friend (Sam Ashdown) from her pre-rehab days, with more personal and serious puzzles to solve.
As usual with films in this cycle, there are obvious feints and blurred lines as to when the horrors stop being japes and start becoming real – a gun loaded with one blank and one apparent live round is a clue – while the early jokey atmosphere segues into something more gruelling. Dwyer emerges from the back as the lead character, and gets to run a gamut from normality to frenzied lunatic, but Dellapina has to do something more subtle, even disturbing with his nice guy act. Having met Alex as her counsellor, there are ethical questions about the relationship – but other possibilities raised are that this is an extreme therapy designed to shock her straight for the long run or a protracted revenge for some infraction committed during her addict days. This does carry its twistiness through to the final scene, in which the final girl and the final prop come into contact, but the spine is the heroine’s transformation. The risk of this sort of shaggy dog story is that they are all conjuring tricks (like, for all its appeal, April Fool’s Day) but this does follow The Game by delivering a little more substance.