‘Terror has evolved’
The Ruins is a 2008 Australian-German-American horror feature film about four Americans that find themselves fighting for their lives deep in the Mexican jungle.
Directed by Carter Smith, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Scott Smith, who also wrote the screenplay. The movie stars Jonathan Tucker, Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey and Joe Anderson.
A flick called The Ruins, eh? What’s it about? The economy, health system, education or marriages?
Nope. The Ruins is a fairly humourless affair, the production company was Red Hour, the imprimatur of ostensible comedy actor-director Ben Stiller. Which is kind of strange (although genre fans will remember that legendary funnyman Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein) also issued a handful of horror (The Fly; The Doctor and the Devils) and David Lynch (The Elephant Man) pictures under his own label). What was Ben Stiller intending with venturing into nasty horror territory? Revenge-in-advance on audiences for the later failure of his Zoolander sequel?
The Ruins screenplay was written by Scott Smith (no relation to first-time-feature director Carter Smith), based on his own rather overhyped novel. Imagine a splatterpunk short story in an obscure zine or website that grew, unnaturally out of control to a lethal 500 pages. On that note, the minimalist plot concerns a small band of post-collegiates on a vacation in Mexico, med-student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), his girlfriend Amy (Jena Malone), their buddies Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey). At the suggestion of newfound German buddy, the two couples visit an archaeological dig, off the maps, deep in the jungle. It turns out to be a Mayan step-pyramid, covered in vine.
Suddenly, armed unfriendly villagers surround the tourists and force them up the ruins, to a deserted expedition camp. Seems the natives have been doing this since time immemorial because the vine is a lethally infectious, insidious, carnivorous plant. Anyone who touches its domain is forced to stay there, lest the organism spread further beyond the ruins.
Thanks to some maladroit moves by the protagonists, the vine doesn’t have to work very hard to sink its tendrils into helpless flesh, and Jeff must practice grisly DIY field surgery, while you ask yourself, why exactly am I watching this? Oh yes, 91 minutes is less arduous than reading the damned novel (take it from me, American writer Murray Leinster did better in just a couple pages in a Golden-Age sci-fi tale, The Plants).
Well, the poor actors work pretty hard, given what they had to work with and Jena Malone delivers up a nude scene for her art. But know that, even with a neat twist on the vine’s capabilities, the CGI of the leaves reaching out don’t look all that much scarier than when B-movie techs would manipulate them on wires back in the old drive-in days of things like The Womaneater (1958) or Maneater of Hydra (1967), or green-minded episodes of Doctor Who or The Avengers. Stick with The Little Shop of Horrors, on stage or screen, even if you are a militant-vegetarian.
Charles Cassady Jr. – MOVIES and MANIA
“The Ruins is a reminder of how horror is a director’s genre; there’s nothing particularly amiss in the storytelling, except for a dumb Hollywood ending, but the film fails to draw out the thick jungle atmosphere, the characters’ gnawing starvation and dehydration, or the fear that swells when day creeps into night.” AV Club
“As much as I like a nice slasher film, this sort of film is what makes horror films fun because, at its heart, it’s scary. Hurray for scary. I can’t recommend this enough because of its use of tension, atmosphere, and the sheer level of horror that is created. Nicely done indeed.” Jackass Critics
“Overall I didn’t feel that there was a sufficient payoff with this movie. I’m a big monster fan and proud of it. There should have been some sort of beast that the vines were attached to. I needed one to be waiting in those ruins. Instead, I got a lot of hungry plants.” Dr Gore’s Movie Reviews
“If Herschell Gordon Lewis directed Little Shop of Horrors, The Ruins would likely be the end product. A skin-crawlingly diabolical horror film, The Ruins is a sobering reminder that the screen can still generate anxiety on a massive scale when it meets material that takes few prisoners.” DVD Talk
“It’s hard to fathom why The Ruins is as bad as it is since Smith (A Simple Plan) is also responsible for the screenplay. It’s simply boring, which is weird because what played out as gripping over 336 pages seems an absolutely tedious uphill climb at just 93 minutes. Part of the reason may be we’re given no insight into who the characters are, so we don’t really care about what happens to them.” Flick Attack
“Smith also did a fine job of translating what has to be the silliest part of the book (besides the concept itself) onto the screen – the talking vines […] The vines don’t talk in a traditional sense, like Audrey II or whatever, but instead mimic the sounds they hear, which include human voices. Apparently, it was a bit streamlined from the book, but it seems natural and is only used twice (to disturbing effect) in the film to boot.” Horror Movie a Day
“When Tucker addresses the fear that they’ll never be found, he says something to the effect of “four Americans just don’t disappear.” That line brought down the house at a screening I saw with a sizable black and Hispanic audience. The filmmakers have managed some scary-ironic eco-commentary, too – the ringing cell phone punch line is a Greenpeace fantasy, and the vines themselves are a stoner’s worst nightmare.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Yeah, the tourists […] are all fairly stupid and pretty much deserve what’s coming to ‘em, but the acting isn’t as bad as you might think. The Get On With It Factor is kinda high as it takes quite awhile for the plants to start eating from the human Sizzler buffet, but by the time the blonde bimbo starts hacking off slabs of meat from her own leg, you will have completely forgotten about the film’s slowish first half. ” The Video Vacuum
Cast and characters:
- Jonathan Tucker … Jeff
- Jena Malone … Amy
- Laura Ramsey … Stacy
- Shawn Ashmore … Eric
- Joe Anderson … Mathias
- Sergio Calderón … Lead Mayan (as Sergio Calderon)
- Jesse Ramirez … Mayan Bowman
- Balder Moreno … Mayan Horseman
- Dimitri Baveas … Dimitri
- Patricio Almeida Rodriguez … Taxi Driver
- Mario Jurado … Mayan Archer
- Luis Antonio Ramos … Mayan Rifleman (as Luis Ramos)
- Walter Quispe … Mayan Rifleman
- Pauline Whyman … Wailing Woman
- Nathan Vega … Mayan Boy
- Gold Coast and Mount Tamborine, Queensland, Australia
- Village Roadshow Studios, Oxenford, Queensland, Australia
- 90 minutes | 93 minutes (unrated)
- Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1
- Audio: Dolby Digital | SDDS | DTS