Monday, October 7, 2019

Safe Words Have No Service

It took long enough for us to have an Escape Room-themed horror flick (that's if you don't count the entire Saw series as part of the genre) so it's only fitting that the time is right for other "experience"-themed settings to replace our boring old camping trips and bachelor parties.

Quick Plot: Alex (a fantastic Marcienne Dwyer) and her boyfriend Nathan are heading to the woods for a fun-filled weekend scavenger hunt-ish activity based on slasher films. They're soon joined by enthusiastic goth couple Pitch and Marina, nerdy virgin Larry, and quiet Tim before being thrown into the woods with some mysterious clues and a safe word code to use if things get too intense.

Because this is a horror movie streaming on Shudder, you can gather that there's something a little more ominous at play. The group barely makes it through one night before crazed locals are drawing blood and body parts are turning up in bloody glory.

Of course, there's also the questionable reliability of our lead. Alex begins the film as a seeming straight arrow recovering from some trauma, but before long, we learn that her past is a little more complicated: she's a recovering heroin addict with a powerful prescription that may be creating or covering up serious hallucinations. 

Directed by Preston DeFrancis (he with cowriter Trysta A. Bissett of Lifetime's kooky A Teacher's Obsession), Ruin Me is a sharp little genre film that does something you rarely see nowadays: it keeps you guessing from beginning to end. The pacing is unusual in a very good way, keeping the audience constantly questioning both reality and tone. 

Ruin Me also benefits from being very funny. John Odom's aggressive Pitch is a highlight, and the jokes on the "experience" industry are smartly on point. What's especially sharp is that Bissett and DeFrancis's script understands where humor can work in an intense situation without undercutting the tension (witness It: Chapter Two for an example of how that same idea is poorly executed). 

It would be a spoiler to go any further into the other key to Ruin Me's success, but know that the story's turns have a very real, very important weight to them. There's a vital theme exploring controlling behavior and gaslighting, and Ruin Me handles this with strength and a deep sense of importance. What a surprisingly little treat.

High Points
As someone known for being too competitive in light activities (and who refuses to even attempt an escape room in fear of alienating everyone with her intensity in the face of game pressure), I sure do appreciate Pitch's thirst to win and Marina's rather sweet and knowing habit of talking him down

Low Points
On one hand, I could have taken far more fun with the ridiculousness of the industrious slasher weekend, but truthfully, Ruin Me's quick plotting is also one of its core strengths

Lessons Learned
Dating is for teenagers. Polyamory is for adults

Horror-themed scavenger weekends operated under most of the same rules as your average strip club

Pay close attention to the color of the pills because chances are, others are too


I found Ruin Me to be an incredibly pleasant surprise, one grounded in specific characters on a journey that found a surprising way to keep me guessing. It's a great genre treat for any fan, and as you can expect, it found a good home at Shudder. 


  1. Watched this last night.
    I agree with everything you wrote about it, but it still didn't grab me... maybe because the whole experience they're putting themselves through for 'fun' seemed really annoying to me.

    I did appreciate that the cast was not the usual gaggle of underwear models and the writing wasn't vapid.

    Thanks for pointing it out.