The Ruins



In "The Ruins," fun-loving youths on holiday in Mexico make a day trip to an ancient Mayan ruin where they become trapped by flesh-eating vines. While not as silly as it sounds, it nevertheless is silly (as are most horror films), and while certainly different, the payoff isn't there.

The film stems from a novel by Scott Smith, which has its enthusiasts, so the concept possibly works better on paper. Give neophyte director Carter Smith and Scott Smith, adapting his own novel, an A for making an effort to evolve a fresh horror flick but a C for execution and D for too many cheap thrills. That leaves you with a C-minus exploitationer that has its under-25 appeal, will drop precipitously at the boxoffice next weekend and be out on DVD very soon.

Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are soaking up rays and cervezas on sun-blasted beaches with their boyfriends, med student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and fun-loving Eric (Shawn Ashmore). A chance encounter with German tourist Mathias (Joe Anderson) and his Greek pal Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas) leads to the decision to trek to a Mayan ruin, where Mathias' brother has gone missing.

Upon arrival, local Mayans, whose language they don't speak, are extremely upset by their presence at the vine-covered pyramid. Strangely, the Mayans force them to climb hurriedly to the top by killing Dimitri. It gradually dawns on the remaining five that the Mayans are "quarantining" them because of their contact with the vines.

In "Ruins," the horror comes from within the group. The man-eating plants are a mere gimmick to force a series of confrontations and decisions among the tourists. The human reactions range from fear and denial to suspicion, accusations, madness and murder along with several grotesque surgical procedures and plant invasions of bodies that give the prosthetics designer free reign.

If anything, the film is too timid in these developments. The protagonists come by their paranoia honestly, and most decisions make sense at the time. With one exception, the external pressures never really warp the minds and spirits of these people.

Also the rules of engagement are never clear. At times, the vines act like second cousins to the bloodthirsty plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" -- they just crave human flesh. Yet the Mayans seem to feel mere contact with the vine infects a person. So what would happen if they did walk out of the jungle? There also is a sci-fi element in which the vines' flowers mimic sounds and human speech, a thing likely to provoke laugher rather than screams.

In the end, the gimmick is too risible and its effects on the characters too forced to sustain either suspense or horror.

DreamWorks and Spyglass Entertainment present a Red Hour production
Director: Carter Smith
Screenwriter: Scott B. Smith
Based on the book by: Scott Smith
Producers: Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer, Chris Bender
Executive producers: Ben Stiller, Trish Hofmann, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum
Director of photography: Darius Khondji
Production designer: Grant Major
Music: Graeme Revell
Costume designer: LIzzy Gardiner
Visual effects supervisor: Gregory L. McMurry
Editor: Jeff Betancourt
Jeff: Jonathan Tucker
Amy: Jena Malone
Eric: Shawn Ashmore
Stacy: Laura Ramsey
Mathias: Joe Anderson
Dimitri: Dimitri Baveas
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: R