Austin Film Festival Review: Ruin Me

Less meta, more manic in this scary sleepover

Screaming in the woods in referential horror Ruin Me (Image courtesy of Terror Weekend Productions)

When it comes to modern horror, filmmakers face a dilemma: Go meta, go referential, or try for something new. At first glimpse, neo-slasher Ruin Me seems to be running face-first into the razorblade traps of postmodern spoof. Yet that glib and well-worn trope is just a mask to hide a more incisive kind of fright.

In this indie horror, Alex (Marcienne Dwyer, Game Night, House Rules for Bad Girls) is an unlikely attendee at Slasher Sleepout. She only volunteers to fill in when her boyfriend/therapist Nathan (Matt Dellapina, These Hopeless Savages) ends up with a spare ticket for this immersive horror-themed weekend experience (imagine a hybrid escape room/woodland camp/extreme haunt à la McKamey Manor). It's not really Alex's deal: When campfire tales turn to horror films, she demurs, telling the other guests that she's more a Dirty Dancing kind of viewer.

Fortunately, she's also preternaturally good at solving the puzzles that the rest of her team (including a mandatory Goth couple, the nerdy 30-year-old virgin, and a mysterious quiet guy who may or may not be a red herring). Then the weekend falls apart, and the fake scares may be less fake than they first appeared.

At first glimpse, Ruin Me falls firmly into the new wave of deconstructionist final girl slashers, along with Last Girl Standing and the aptly named The Final Girls (not to be confused with Final Girl). The set-up is oddly reminiscent of the oft-maligned Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (which may be the first time that film has been referenced this decade), not least that Alex is a less-than-reliable narrator. Hallucinations and odd recurrent dreams are just the tip of the iceberg of a few dirty little secrets she's keeping.

The script by writer Trysta Bissett and writer/director Preston DeFrancis never takes its beady eyes off Alex, putting the seeming-ingenue into increasingly Saw-esque moral dilemmas. Questions of her own mental health seesaw with hints the menace in the woods is actually real, and even suggestions of gaslighting (another hat tip, this time to deep cut Let's Scare Jessica to Death).

It's not the gore that's important: it's Alex's ability to discern whether it's real blood or Karo Syrup, that provides the intriguing and sometimes terrifying drama. That the final shot slides in a Scream reference that plays like a Blood Simple riff shows the sharpness of the blade upon which this surprisingly sly horror dances.

Ruin Me

Thursday, Nov. 2, 4pm, Rollins Theatre

The Austin Film Festival and Conference runs Oct. 26-Nov. 2. Find more information at

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