In this review, we celebrate both the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival and the kickoff of The Farsighted’s second annual 31 Days of Halloween. Like many others, we celebrate all month long, but rather than the standard “31 Days of Horror” we cover all types of Halloween goodness, from the goofy family fun of movies like Hocus Pocus to the hardcore terror of films like the American Guinea Pig series. With that in mind, we kick things off with brand new slasher film Ruin Me, which played PUFF last night.
One of the prevailing themes of the second year of PUFF seems to be the female perspective – something I’ll explore in my festival wrap up on Cinapse later this week. In addition to the contemplative Imitation Girl, where the protagonists struggle with what it is to be a human and to be a woman, the festival took a strong turn into the treatment and mistreatment of women on Saturday night. In back to back fashion, PUFF displayed the grizzly procedural Charismata and the inventive slasher Ruin Me. Both prominently feature women being gaslit by their male partners and confidants to the point of questioning their sanity. In the case of Ruin Me, that mistrust of the female lead and her mistrust for herself is compounded by her history of opiate abuse and mental health struggles.
Marcienne Dwyer’s Alex is initially presented as nothing more than a tagalong, the girlfriend of a horror enthusiast named Nathan (Matt Dellapina). Nathan’s best friend got him tickets to go to “Slasher Sleepout”, an immersive horror experience that is part “haunt” and part “escape room”, and was unable to come along due a last-minute concern. Being the good girlfriend, Alex agrees to come along, even though she doesn’t really enjoy horror films or scary things in general. She seems to be truly in love and her boyfriend appears to be a total catch, but we’ll find out that something is quite rotten in Denmark… or in the creepy woods, as it were.
Revelations about her past – including her mental health, drug use, and past relationships – begin to reveal themselves as the shit hits the fan and the sleepout turns into something seemingly real, rather than planned out for their amusement. However, the issues of not knowing what was real and what was not were far worse for Alex when considering her boyfriend’s continued reminders to take her medicine and the natural trust issues that anyone in recovery suffers from. Without spoiling the details – and the story here is very much in those details – it’s important to at least understand that Alex is no saint, but the Hell she endures in the end feels far worse than what she deserves.
Additionally, as someone who works in treatment and knows as much as I can about addiction without having experienced it, I see that there are some heavy and accurate metaphors in play. Not only is Alex literally suffering from the issues accrued throughout her addiction, but her experiences are also very representative of deeper struggles many experience on the road to recovery.
Interestingly, the way that an addict is mistreated by some people in their life seems to mirror how many women are treated in our society. There is often a mistrust for women; in fact, questions of their sanity and honesty abound, for no legitimate reason. Whereas an addict has done something in his/her past to cause people to question honesty and sanity, many women face this treatment for no reason other than patriarchal conditioning. Moreover, someone with mental health concerns in their history is also treated with severe and unfair skepticism, as well as an added layer where society believes they are especially justified in believing this. While someone with mental health concerns may have legitimate impairment, the vast misunderstanding of diagnoses and symptoms allows society to massively abuse people with mental illness and discredit people without proper cause. This allows the film to work on multiple levels, as well as work an even stronger allegorical level when considering the interconnected commentary on addiction, mental health, and gender. Alex represents a personification of multiple populations unjustly discredited in our world.
For this, I am grateful for this film and look forward to breaking it down more in time. However, with a film this new and consideration of presenting a spoiler free review, I leave a few simple questions for those reading this. What are we doing to combat people who blame addicts, the mentally ill, and women? What are we doing to combat people who gaslight addicts, the mentally ill, and women? What are we doing to combat people who don’t take people seriously due to these types of bias? What are we doing to stand up for fair treatment and equality? Are we fighting for the Alexes of this world… or are we standing next to the Nathans, enabling or even helping them?
Ruin Me offers so much to chew on and it does so by creating a highly entertaining slasher film that is fresh and exciting. It brings to life a literal nightmare for a woman trying to build a new life, trying to relearn to trust others and herself. It’s one I’ll be thinking about and revisiting many times to come. Highly recommended.