Carter Smith’s The Ruins opens innocently enough. Four American teenagers sun themselves in a resort in Cancun, Mexico. They meet a German guy looking for his brother, and they join him and his friend as they search for the ruins the brother was last seen in. As they come across the ruins, they appear to be covered in strange looking vines and plants. Someone touches the vines, and all hell breaks loose. Angry locals appear from the jungle, and in a tense scene kill one of the tourists. Everyone is scared, and the young group head up the ruins to what they think is safety….
I won’t reveal any more of the plot as I don’t want to spoil it for you. But you know the drill. For me, the concept of some kind of manifestation – be it disease, murderous creatures or even insanity itself – taking over a group, gradually destroying their minds and bodies over a period of time, is truly terrifying. I was reminded of Eli Roth’s debit Cabin Fever, a similar story depicting couples isolated while something eats away at their skin, creating confusion, madness, pitting friend against friend. This idea is very effective in its ability to scare. Here, director Smith has used it well.
Another reason I was drawn to this is that Ben Stiller served as one of the producers. I’m a fan, and I saw no element of his comedy in the trailers or ad campaign leading up, so I was intrigued. A different angle, maybe? Stiller wouldn’t put his name to anything terrible, right? Ok, I’ve seen Envy, but I wasn’t disappointed here. The Ruins is a very dark and sinister film, although made in a way that typifies horror movies of the era. Jena Malone (Donnie Darko) and Shawn Ashmore (X-Men) are faces you may recognise, however I found myself spending more time wondering what the plants were going to do next. Of course, you can imagine that they attach themselves to our protagonists, in scenes which echo The Raft sequence from George Romero’s Creepshow 2; a foreign body, attaching, searing flesh, killing. Not only that, they are also capable of mimicry. It’s one of the more inventive elements of the film, setting it apart somewhat, but the overall end product is ultimately rather average.
If you appreciated movies like The Hole, then The Ruins will be perfect for you. Like the latter film and Danny Boyle’s The Beach, the presence of a severely wounded member of the party adds to the paranoia and fear, their cries becoming impossible to ignore. It leads to some pretty horrible consequences. Imagine it. I think I’d go a little crazy too. With enough gore and terror to keep the most ardent horror fan happy, if you look a little deeper you will find a concept that, albeit it used many times before, is put to good use here. Suspend disbelief, and banish those thoughts of Day of the Triffids, and you’ll be as scared as I was.