Ruins, The (2008)

The Ruins (2008)

Terror has evolved.

A group of friends on holiday in Mexico are invited to a remote archaeological dig in the jungle by a fellow tourist. He wants to go and see his brother who is heading up the dig and thinks a trip into the jungle will be a good laugh. However when they get to the site – an ancient Mayan temple – they are attacked by the local villagers who refuse to let them leave. Stranded on the ruins of the temple, the group soon realise that the villagers and their lack of food and water aren’t the worst of their problems.

 

Apart from The Day of the Triffids, I can’t name too many films which feature killer plants. Maybe there’s a good reason for that – the idea is rather absurd. So with this in mind, The Ruins is a tough one to call. The poster seems to put it over as another generic teen survival horror where a group of tourists fall victim to a bunch of nasty locals. Whilst there is some truth in that plot, The Ruins is actually a more effective psychological horror in which the gore isn’t in abundance, the special effects are kept to a minimum and the situation is handled as mature and believable as possible (but we are dealing with killer plants at the end of the day!). This is a horror film where you need to like the protagonists and get into their heads before the plot starts to force them to make difficult decisions and screwing with their minds. And it does just that.

The first thirty minutes of The Ruins are pretty lacklustre and are simply the generic ‘getting to know the characters’ phase. The characters are well fleshed out during this time and we get to know them all a little deeper than usual. They’re not too far from bordering on stereotypes but each character has a little something extra which allows them to rise above the norm. The Ruins gives the illusion that it is going to be another bland teen horror with lots of footage of the group partying, acting immaturely, getting promiscuous and the rest (at least it gives us the sight of the glorious Laura Ramsay without her top on). The characters all seem too stereotypical and lightweight and a little poorly motivated – if I was lounging in the sun next to a pool and with Laura Ramsay at my beckoned call, why would I want to go hiking in the middle of nowhere and get all hot and blistered?

However once the film feels that we’ve ‘bonded’ with the characters enough to like them, and to be fair to them they’re all decent and likeable, then the rug is pulled away and the proverbial hits the fan. The characters are all put through the grinder at some point with difficult moral decisions, ever-increasing panic and paranoia and the inevitable madness in the face of death. It’s a credit to the group of actors that they all managed to prove me wrong. They’re not just pretty faces with model looks, these young men and women can actually act. The focus of the film is always on these characters and it never strays away with any sub-plots or events that occur elsewhere. So you’re with them every step of the way – with each scream, each reaction, each cut of the skin and each break of bone, we feel their pain and suffering. Most of the film is confined to the one location of the ruins. And not just around the ruins but on top of them. There’s no escape for the characters as the local villagers lay in wait if they leave the ruins. Despite being confined to the same location, the film manages to work the suspense down to a tee.

What may sound like a very ridiculous premise with killer vines actually turns into some horrific as the plants are made out to be a very major and very deadly threat. As they begin to get under the character’s skin (quite literally), little is spared to the imagination as they slowly eat away their victims, keeping them alive as long as possible. The characters must go to extreme lengths if they want to survive this ordeal and end up trying to cut off their skin, eventually resulting in the hacking off of limbs to prevent the vines from eating them alive. The film doesn’t shy away from the gore and its right up there with the realistic excesses of the first Saw film. It’s just the thought of having these things growing under your skin which will make you scratch your arms and legs a few times whilst watching. The film pushes the boundaries for what it can and the unrated version is even more graphic – but you never feel like it’s obligatory but rather essential to the story. Only seeing the full effects of what will happen to all of the characters can you truly appreciate just what must be going through their heads when they are trying to make rational decisions.

I only found out after watching that The Ruins is based upon a novel by Scott Smith. It’s a good job that the film rights were snapped up long before Smith had finished (as the studio based the success upon his last novel which was turned into A Simple Plan) because Stephen King came out and named the novel as the best new horror work of the decade. I may have to check it out sometime soon. Thanks to the source material, The Ruins does come off as original despite the number of Hollywood-isms present. Smith even wrote the screenplay to make sure that as much of his source material was included which would make it a spectacle as sometimes stuff works in books that doesn’t on-screen. Having creative control over this side of the film really helps the material to stand out as something a bit different and fresh.

 

The Ruins is a decent effort. A lot of the story is par for the course and has been played out many times in the past whenever a group of tourists end up in the wrong place. Whilst the end result is usually the same, it’s the journey there that matters and The Ruins takes you through the ringer from the moment the friends arrive at the temple. Do you know what the best thing is about this? It’s not a remake, a sequel or based on a Japanese horror film! A truly original horror film which deserves at least a whole star solely for that mantle!

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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