A better tagline for this movie would have been "What's Eating You?" That "Terror has Evolved" line is so predictable, so yesterday.
I’m not saying that The Ruins, directed by Carter Smith, is predictable or yesterday's terror, but it does contain some old, some new, and some very intense gore-toned frights; especially for the man sitting next to me in the theater who was so excited during one bloody, bone-crushing scene he had to stand up and shake it off. I could empathize. As for me, I just got cold sweats and tried to keep the squishing, tearing sounds from making me even more nauseous. I'll be the first to admit it: I'm a wimp when it comes to meaty scenes embellished with nasty sound effects.
Novelist Scott Smith adapts his story for the screen leaving it essentially the same, though he shuffles his characters a bit, placing more emphasis on the girls, Stacy and Amy, and less on the sentient, flesh-eating vines that mimic human voices and drip corrosive sap that burns like hell. And instead of Eric becoming infected with the hungry plants, as he does in the novel, onscreen it's Stacy (Laura Ramsey) who's driven to madness and self-mutilation. She looks better in underwear than Eric would have anyway (just saying).
Four Americans are talked into visiting Mayan ruins deep in the Yucatan jungle by a German stranger, Mathias (Joe Anderson), who they meet poolside. He asks them to join him on a visit to a dig site his brother and an archaeologist friend are working on.
Sure, why not? It only takes five minutes of chat to convince them to go deep into a jungle with a total stranger. Haven't these people seen Hostel?
Young Americans abroad in horror movies are always portrayed as irresponsible, fun-loving, and itching to get into mischief. Director Carter Smith dotes on their buff bodies and rosy cheeks as they splash away in the sun, providing quite an eyeful of Stacy and Amy. At first I thought he was doing the usual eye-candy for the teen crowd, but when Jeff, Eric, Amy, and Stacy become trapped at the top of the Mayan temple, he dotes on their increasingly dirty, disheveled appearance even more, exemplifying how unprepared they are, rushing into the jungle without a thought or a backpack. After the taxi drops them off and drives away, they worry how they'll get back to the hotel. Amy (Jena Malone) complains she can't walk through the jungle in her flip-flops.
Political commentary on American arrogance? A social metaphor for American youth's shallowness? No. Just dumb American tourists getting themselves into trouble as usual to prime the terror to come.
And the terror for this foolhardy group sinks in quickly when they realize they're badly screwed and help is not a cell phone call away. Bickering about the food they didn't bring with them, and with no 7 Eleven in walking distance, it's the lively vegetation that's happy to have their company for dinner. The local villagers come and try to warn them, but not understanding each other's language, or the danger, the villagers must force them to the top of the ruins after two of the no comprende touristas inadvertently stomp through the deadly plants during a tense standoff.
At the top they find the deserted dig site. A windlass and rope lead down into the ruins. Mathias insists on climbing down the rope, only managing to break both legs when it snaps. Jeff and Eric send the girls down to help him. The girls move the back-crackling and screaming Mathias into position to be hoisted out.
You'll be reaching for the Tylenol yourself as they move him.
It gets worse when Stacy gashes her leg while helping Mathias. The next morning her leg turns into a flower pot and sprouts a beautiful new vine.
The gore-o-meter hits the yellow zone starting here and goes into the red when Mathias' legs become a bloody trellis for more vines. Jeff, the first-year medical student, decides they have to remove his infected legs. Not much is left after the vines start growing in and around them, but the ensuing graphic double amputation is not for the squeamish. Not to be outdone, Stacy becomes crazed by the growing vegetation squirming around inside her. Grabbing a knife she decides to do surgery on herself.
She's not a medical student.
You may want to buy an extra-large popcorn bucket for this movie just in case. No popcorn; just the bucket. It may come in handy.
The continual ringing of a cell phone sends both girls down into the temple again to look for it. Perhaps it's a sat phone, or maybe Verizon's service really is that good. Or maybe there's something else going on and waiting in the dark rooms of the ruins for them. While the novel delves deeper into the sentience of the plants, the lesser disconcerting glimpses shown in the film provide an adequate sense of mystery and dread.
The Ruins is a straightforward and humorless study in terror, greatly aided by the foley artists. One can only imagine the glee they had in coming up with all those stomach churning sounds. Sure, you can heap on thematic, political, and all the social-allegorical and subtextual discussions you like, but this movie is body horror, visceral terror, and scary as hell, plain and simple. While there have been other movies and novels dealing with people-eating plants, the gore and pretty, but rash, young people come together here in a way that's quite unnerving. While the histrionic acting is par for the horror course, it's still done well to raise the tension. Applying realistic gore where it can do the most damage to your piece of mind, when depicting the novel's more harrowing scenes, doesn't hurt either: except for Jeff, Eric, Stacy, and Amy.
Bring a date to see this movie. I guarantee he or she will be clinging to you just as much as those hungry vines do to their victims. But in a nicer way.
Hey Iloz Zoc
Uranium Willy from the UCafe and I saw this at the IMDB external review site when I was updating my own review there. Very nice review and I basically felt the same way abut the film. I reviewed it at a new site actually I have not told you about maybe at:
a site dedicated to strictly modern horror films
Posted by: Bill aka Uranium Willy | December 28, 2008 at 09:33 AM
Thanks to Minion over at the Universal Monster Army forum for correcting my typo: I said Pablo became vine-infected in the book, but meant to say Eric. I've corrected the review to reflect that.
Posted by: ILOZ ZOC--error fixed! | April 11, 2008 at 01:58 PM
>Speaking of Dana Andrews, I loved him in Curse of the Demon, based on Montague's story Casting the Ruins
And now you know where my Karswell handle came from...
Posted by: Steve | April 09, 2008 at 09:33 AM
Interestingly enough, Horton Hears...was the film before Ruins that I took my son to also.
Speaking of Dana Andrews, I loved him in Curse of the Demon, based on Montague's story Casting the Ruins, er, sorry, I mean Casting the Runes.
Posted by: IL | April 09, 2008 at 09:03 AM
Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes... or was it ruins?
Looking forward to seeing this though, especially since the last thing I saw at the moving picture show was Horton Hears a Who with my kid.
Posted by: Steve | April 08, 2008 at 08:55 PM
That will probably be the sequel, I think.
Posted by: IL | April 08, 2008 at 12:57 PM
Every time I see the ad for this on TV I think it says 'The Runs'
Posted by: cedar | April 08, 2008 at 10:57 AM