Alexandra reluctantly tags along for Slasher Sleepout, an extreme event that is part camping trip, part haunted house, and part escape room. But when the fun turns deadly, Alex has to play the game if she wants to make it out alive.
Trysta A. Bissett
When looking at how a film will get its final rating – there’s usually a lot of back and forth in my head.
Was a particular performance amazing enough to warrant a little extra?
Did the film have some pacing issues? Did the camerawork or perhaps the score distract from the overall experience?
Was there a terrifying moment so memorable that it could potentially require a second viewing to truly appreciate what the filmmakers were doing – and thus earn some extra points as far as a final rating?
Well, there are also films which make that back and forth practically non-existent – almost proclaiming the proper rating once the screening is complete.
In this case, if a film is perfectly wonderful and engaging and fun for exactly the first half and then falls into disarray for the second half – it seems readily apparent that a solid “average” rating, i.e. 2.5 stars out of a possible 5 – is a no-brainer.
And here we have the horror/comedy Ruin Me, which held its Los Angeles premiere at this year’s Screamfest Film Festival in Hollywood.
A group of mismatched personalities including recovering heroin addict Alexandra (Marcienne Dwyer), her boyfriend Nathan (Matt Dellapina) and four other strangers go to the woods to engage in a 36-hour immersive horror experience called Slasher Sleepout. They’ll have to solve clues, defend themselves against the dangers of the “slashers” and try to find their way to the end of the experience – ultimately winning some serious bragging rights. And they have to work together to achieve these goals. Of course, things take a deadly turn when some random whack-job enters the game. And he may or may not be part of the experience.
There’s plenty to like about Ruin Me – but again, all of these awesome goodies are relegated to the film’s first half.
The dialogue is strong, funny and certainly entertaining. The exchange between Alexandra and Marina as they go off to search for their next clues – is telling, bold and well-done.
And the morning of the group’s first full day finds Alexandra and Nathan discussing potential sex in their two-person tent. Something about a raccoon and the humor is perfectly achieved.
The set-up of the various personalities will immediately engage you, and the central concept of a horror haunt/immersive experience which develops into real-life horror is inspired and exciting. Has it truly been done before? Haunted houses, yes – but completely immersive, over-night events? I don’t know.
So it’s all good. Certainly sounds fun, right?
But then the film does a complete 180 degree turn – falling into some sort of Saw territory (admittedly with a very cool set piece) and then a convoluted final girl sequence and an uninspired reveal.
Performances are all pretty good, with special shout-outs to Dwyer in the lead role and the best of the comic relief, Larry (played by Chris Hill).
Alexandra is properly separated from the events – going as a favor to her newbie boyfriend after his buddy got sick. She’s set up as the final girl very early on, and when she starts solving the clues before some of the more seasoned immersive experience geeks – you’ll get to liking her very quickly (the reaction from fellow contestant and emo-dude Pitch – played by John Odom – is an instant classic). And Dwyer hits all of the right notes. With Alexandra never far away from falling off of the wagon – there’s an undercurrent of tension and unease with the character. And when things go off the track later in the film, Dwyer brings the perfect amount of fear, confusion and guilt to an already off-balanced character. Despite the massive stumble in tone at the halfway point – Dwyer is the solid piece which carries all the way through the film – even when the story begins to fail her.
As Larry – Chris Hill is the perfect loner loser. The character obviously makes up for his social awkwardness with his over-powering nerdiness. His first intro to Alexandra outside a gas station’s rundown restroom (the gas station is the starting point of the game) is comic greatness. You’ll like him (Hill the actor and Larry the character) immediately.
There are a few good “boo” moments, a bit of T&A and as any self-respecting horror geek would want/expect; some decent gore (you know what kind of picture you’re getting into immediately).
I’m always fond of using the term “screeching brakes” when describing that unfortunate moment in some films where everything seemingly derails. Again – things were going so well and then the tonal shift destroys the carefully crafted horror/comedy brilliance (aided by the story’s great set-up). At one point, I turned to my husband and whispered, “I so want to do this.”
And the film offers too many options for what could have actually happened. The story and characters could have gone this way, could have gone that way – but it all starts to feel too overwhelming and unfocused.
There’s a small discussion between Alexandra and her former boyfriend about “what we did” at the film’s halfway point, but its never brought up again – and that’s part of the overall wishy-washiness I mentioned above. Don’t introduce all of these possibilities and then leave 80% of them in the dust. It almost feels as though the filmmakers weren’t quite sure how to finish the film, so all of these various outcomes were introduced until they could make up their minds.
With good performances, but a horrible misstep at the film’s halfway point – Ruin Me could have been a big winner. But with tonal shifts and some unfocused and misguided choices in that second half – the film can only garner a 2.5-star rating. Not perfect, not terrible – but right in the middle.
Ruin Me is still playing the festival circuit. No wider release information is yet available.