Director: Preston DeFrancis
Writer: Trysta A. Bissett, Preston DeFrancis
Producer: Rebecca G. Stone
Stars: Marcienne Dwyer, Matt Dellapina, Eva Hamilton, John Odom, Chris Hill, Cameron Gordon, Sam Ashdown, Rocky Rector, Tom Harryman, Alex Galick
Participants in a horror-themed escape room campout come to suspect they may actually be targets for murderous asylum escapees.
Extreme haunt ‘Blackout’ by way of the overnight immersion of ‘Great Horror Campout’ is the central conceit of ‘Slasher Sleepout’ (that’s a lot of ‘outs’), a 36-hour escape room event set in a forest. Alex couldn’t care less about horror-themed entertainment, particularly the interactive kind. Her favorite movie is “Dirty Dancing,” after all. But when her boyfriend’s buddy drops out at the last minute, Alex upturns her palms with a “why not?” to join Nathan on this weird woodland excursion.
Accompanied by oversexed goth girl Marina, her Hot Topic beau Pitch, schlubby chatterbox Larry, and plain bagel Tim, the latter of whom loses out on a personality when the script runs out of stereotypes, the sextet is hooded, abducted, and dumped at the starting point with only game-provided backpack contents as accessories. Puzzles are pondered. Personalities clash. Then a hobo unexpectedly interrupts the curious camping trip to cut Nathan’s arm, leading everyone to suspect the game’s story about crazed asylum escapees may not be as fictional as they thought.
As the weekend rolls on, more encounters erupt in bloodshed. Once bodies begin disappearing, the line between fact and fantasy disappears too. ‘Slasher Sleepout’ eventually takes everyone so deep, Alex can no longer be certain if anything at all is real, or just a haunting hallucination in her head.
“Ruin Me,” a title I’m tempted to not even use because I’m certain its eventual distributor will correctly insist on renaming it “Slasher Sleepout,” clearly pulls its plot from the same mind game maze as “The Unraveling” (review here), “April Fool’s Day,” and David Fincher’s “The Game.” Although “Ruin Me” faithfully follows a bunch of the same setups as those movies, it makes its mark by taking two memorable turns, giving its take on the “what’s really going on?” premise a sharper bite than most.
The first turn isn’t quite a twist, but an intentionally disorienting mid-movie reset certain to force any viewer who thinks s/he has it all figured out to immediately reconsider. “Ruin Me” jumps suddenly from trees to the beach for a deviously devised setpiece that would compel Jigsaw to give it a golf clap. This harrowing sequence creatively changes the context of Alex’s predicament, as well as her relationships with several key characters, setting up a finish line sprint filled with a few more suspenseful surprises.
On the other side of that coin, serious stake flips like these are what give the film the trouble it has balancing horror with humor. Co-writers Preston DeFrancis, who also directs, and Trysta A. Bissett have a broader background in comedy, evidenced by how hard the first third of the film fights to be funny. If accompanying music only incorporated buoyant slide whistles and trumpet plungers, “Ruin Me’s” opening could sell itself straight as a farcical spoof.
Iffy tone becomes an issue “Ruin Me” gets only a slippery grip on, particularly because the movie ends up in several unexpectedly dark places. Working harder than anyone to balance this uneven seesaw is lead actress Marcienne Dwyer. Alex comes out the other end of her experience as a much different person than when she went in, for a multitude of reasons shaping her evolution throughout. Dwyer’s organic ability to pull back old layers to expose new traits almost singlehandedly rescues “Ruin Me” when it teeters toward un-believability, which its concept can’t completely avoid anyway.
Her costars can’t compete with her characterization, though that’s more on the script than it is on the actors. Chris Hill’s Larry, a dead ringer for David Anthony Higgins (a ‘That Guy’ you’ll probably have to Google), is funny in principle as a personality, but his material often lands flat. A line about how “reviews on Fangoria said (Slasher Sleepout) is the best,” a reference already dated in 2017, hints at how dialogue is a touch out of step with current culture. Punch out comparable misfires, punch up conversations, and “Ruin Me” would have more zip on its lip.
I’m inclined to wave a hand at drawbacks in the drama however, and award extra points on the basis that “Ruin Me” makes up for rough-edged shortcomings with entertaining enthusiasm. A standard scale might see a lower score due to a slightly forced conclusion that goes on too long, or the persistent thorn of an uneven tempo.
But you’ll virtually never see a micro movie out of Michigan aim this high for slick styling on a low budget and nearly get all the way there. Days, nights, exteriors, interiors, and even underwater shots, “Ruin Me” packs all that it can into its story, staging, performances, and technical execution. “Ruin Me” may not make it to the top of the heap of humorous horror thrillers, but it does climb high as an admirable indie effort.
Review Score: 70