REVIEW: The Ruins (2008)

Another group of attractive American twenty-somethings enjoying vacation in the tourist-y part of the third world opt to venture off the marked trails in search of something “pretty cool” and wind up getting brutally tortured and slaughtered in the middle of nowhere. As narrative tweaks go, the fact that this time around the perpetrators of the bloodletting are carnivorous monster plants is damn near novel enough to make you forget your basically watching “Turistas” again… assuming you were one of the five or six people who saw and/or remembers seeings “Turistas” in the first place. Call it “The Hills Have Ivy.”

The ruins of the title are an ancient Mayan sacrificial pyramid which happens to be inhabited by a meat-eating strain of crawling-ivy. Lining up to be plantfood are a pair of token foriegners, a med school student, two semi-interchangable hotties (one to get naked, one to not, guess who survives) and a nominally more pro-active guy with a beard. The gory stuff kicks off when they make the mistake of stepping onto the pyramid and find themselves beset by Angry Villagers who’re rather insistent about keeping the killer plants – and anyone who goes near them – contained.

So, it’s a vacation-gone-to-hell movie with a whopper of a twist (especially once we start seeing some of the stranger extra powers the monster-plant has up it’s.. petals? stamen?) but it’s unsparing with the bloodletting, merciless with the close-ups and pretty darn smart about the mechanics of horror filmmaking. What makes it inch toward something a bit more is the odd (and probably mostly-coincidental) way it’s plotting eventually starts to resemble a gonzo cross between a modern gore-shocker and an old-timey “jungle adventure” potboiler, right down to the details like the nasty natives doing their thing with bows and arrows and even having “search for the missing archaeologist” as the impetus to seek the ruins in the first place. I half expected Johnny Weissmuller to step out of the bushes… carrying a chainsaw.

It’s finally a little too in love with it’s own pseudo-realism. Carter Smith (directing from a script by Scott B. Smith adapting his own book) was previously best known as a fashion photographer, so it’s somewhat surprising to see him aiming for the stark, spare documentary-style approach. There’s a solid sampling of standout sequences, but just when it looks like the film is ready to cut loose and go as bonkers as a killer-plant movie generally ought to go it’s over. The aspiration to gritty verisimilitude is admirable, but guys… you’re making a movie about man-eating plants, not an installment of “John Adams.” It’s okay to have a little more FUN with it.

Still, it’s a pretty-good movie with killer plants, which makes it a good Killer Plant Movie. And when was the last time we had one of those? A for effort, if nothing else.


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