The Ruins (2008) / Horror-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity
Running time: 91 min. (93 min. unrated cut)
Cast: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, Shawn Ashmore, Joe Anderson, Sergio Calderon
Director: Carter Smith
Screenplay: Scott Smith (based on his novel)
A Simple Plan's Scott Smith pens the screenplay for this shocker, based on his book of the same name, to middling results. The bulk of the story takes place in Mexico, in Cancun, near the Mayan temple ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, where four young Americans tourists go to the hidden temple where a brother one of their newfound German friends has been said to be visiting. Once they arrive, they find the Mayan natives aren't so friendly, as they surround the giant temple, forcing them to remain at the top without adequate food or water. Not that it matters, as the giant plant life that covers the ruins has taken to consuming whatever comes near, like a giant Venus flytrap with a hunger for human flesh.
Gore fetishists may champion The Ruins as their favorite flick since the last gruesome horror excursion, but few else will find it to be worth the time and nausea level. As with most films in the horror genre, the best way to describe it is to relate what other movies it is almost exactly like, as this one feels a lot like Cabin Fever, with a little bit of Bug, Turistas, and The Descent tossed in for good measure. Reportedly, though Smith retains sole credit for the adaptation of his lengthy novel, this is a barebones version of his relentlessly depressing story, changing many of the events of what happens to which characters, gutting many of the facets that made it a thoughtful and scary read for many. Essentially, all of its limbs are broken and and amputated in order to stuff it into a suit so that it practically resembles every other dead college-age production out there, complete with sex, drinking, and plenty of fiddling with cell phones and the like.
Good performances by the main actors does make it a cut above most horror films if its ilk (though Joe Anderson's German accent is far from authentic), and there is a very effective creep factor involved in the choice of antagonist, a wildly growing, mimicking plant that can grab, infest and devour its victims in the most grisly and stomach churning ways possible. The cinematography by Darius Khondji (My Blueberry Nights, The Interpreter) is actually quite marvelous to look at, and the action is well edited when the situations call for it.
Nevertheless, it's just too inherently derivative in its delivery, with an overly familiar set of pacing and development that only a true-blue horror aficionado should bother attempting to watch, and even then, only those with a thirst for plenty of blood and viscera. With more build up of its characters and more depth in its design, we might actually be scared when the events turn nasty, instead of just cringing at the level of grisliness. The ending is a bit of a botch, once again ripping a page out of the script of the aforementioned horror-thrillers, to the point where the entire experience can be considered rather meaningless, save for its incessant sensationalism -- in a way, one can say that it practically ruins The Ruins.
©2008 Vince Leo