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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

type-cast: who should star in the movie version of Scott Smith’s new novel ‘The Ruins’?

There’s a bit in the middle of The Ruins — the new horror novel from Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan — when the small band of characters through which we see all the events of the story have reached that point that comes in many a scary story: They haven’t quite lost all hope yet that salvation will come, so they’re still able to joke about their situation. And they wonder who will play them in the inevitable movie to be made about their ordeal, and how Hollywood will screw up the story, alter it and simplify it and pump it full of clichés in the name of “entertainment.”

Maybe that’s more than Smith having a bit of fun in what is a relentlessly horrific, unputdownable nightmare of a book. Maybe it’s Smith heading off at the pass the obvious suggestions that would crop up at a Hollywood story meeting (“Could we make the German guy some kind of Nazi?”). Assuming he hadn’t already sold the movie rights before he even started writing The Ruins, he surely must have known he’d sell them by the time it was finished — his screenplay for A Simple Plan, adapted from his own novel, was nominated for an Oscar.

And sure enough, Ben Stiller’s production company has snapped up the rights. No word on a projected release date, or stars. But that does mean we can’t cast it now.
You’ll want to read the book (if you haven’t already) before you play along, but here’s the spoiler-free setup: Two young American couples are vacationing in Cancún the summer after college graduation; they’re about to head home to new jobs or postgraduate school. Jeff and Amy are both rather serious-minded, while Eric and Stacy are a little flightier, a little less responsible; Amy and Stacy are best friends, and their boyfriends get along fine but probably wouldn’t be friends if not for the girls. The four of them befriend a German tourist, Mathias, who convinces them to leave their comfortable beach resort for a day of tramping around some old Mayan ruins in the middle of the jungle in search of Mathias’s brother, who has apparently run off with a pretty archaeology student. Also along for the day is another new friend, Pablo, a Greek tourist whose name isn’t really Pablo, but they don’t speak Greek and he doesn’t speak English so they make up a name for him.

What happens when they get to the ruins, I won’t tell you, except to say that it’s simultaneously more mundane and way more terrifying than probably anything you’ve read before… and than much of what we typically see in horror movies. What’s scary here is how the human psyche starts to break down, how we move into sheer-survival mode, how we adjust our expectations about what constitutes a good outcome of a bad situation. The relevant aspect for adapting this book as movie is this: You can’t get away with casting pretty cannon fodder here. You need real actors who can convey that psychological breakdown, who can make us identify with them for reasons beyond the visceral sympathy we’ll feel merely because they are under physical attack.

Here’s how the characters might be described to a casting director:

Jeff: early 20s, Eagle Scout type
Amy: early 20s, fresh-faced girl-next-door type
Eric: early 20s, passive, a follower not a leader
Stacy: early 20s, quirky, a little wild
Mathias: early 20s, English-speaking German, sporty outdoorsy type
Pablo: early 20s, Greek (doesn’t speak English), adventurous

My picks:
Jeff: James Franco
Amy: Kirsten Dunst
Eric: Brandon Routh
Stacy: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Mathias: Daniel Brühl
Pablo: Elijah Wood

Who would you cast?

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