If you discount science fiction fare such as THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and their remakes, you can count films that have featured killer plants on the palm of one hand, probably due to the fact that creeping green vines aren’t usually synonymous with feelings of creeping terror. Joe Dallesandro grew an array of sinister foliage as THE GARDENER (aka SEEDS OF EVIL, 1975) but there was nothing unnerving about his transformation into one. The same applied to Julie Ege when rogue biologist Donald Pleasance injects her with plant DNA in THE MUTATIONS (1974). All audience sympathy evaporated when the man-eating plant segment from DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) cast annoying DJ Alan “Fluff” Freeman as plant fodder, whilst the LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960, 1985) decided to play it as comedy from the outset. So just when you thought it was safe to go and lie down in the grass along comes THE RUINS.
THE RUINS marks the first full-length feature by Carter Smith whose segment “Bugcrush” shocked gay audiences not prepared for a horror ride when it featured as part of BOYS LIFE 6 (2007). This time around Smith manages to finely balance the gore and suspense levels to deliver a movie that deserved much more than its quick exit from cinemas earlier in the year.
The plot, based on screenwriter Scott Smith’s novel of the same name, follows two American couples on vacation in Mexico. Stacy (Laura Ramsey) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) are in a functional relationship, making jokes at the expense of Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone) whose problems are heightened by the fact that Jeff will soon be heading off to Medical School to train as a doctor. When party-pooper Jeff retires early for the night the others decide to party on the beach. Amy gets drunk and jumps on bronzed German Mathias (Joe Anderson) who informs them of a hidden Mayan Temple that’s not on the tourist spots as it’s recently been the site of an archaeological dig. The next morning, despite Jeff’s better judgement, the five, accompanied by Greek guide Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas) set off to the ruins.
By the time the group get to the Temple sufficient character development has taken place so that when they are attacked by a group of hostile locals (queue an effective gun blast to the head) and forced to the top of the vine covered ruins, we share the parties fear. Especially when it gradually dawns on them that the Mayans are the least of their worries.
There are several impressive gore effects on show for its $8 million budget that include messy limb amputation, self-mutilation, and some nasty work by the vines themselves. For the most part the film is shot in the light with much of the action occurring in broad daylight. In many ways, this subversion of one of the horror genre’s clichés adds even more to the claustrophobic terrors. Not only must the group contend with the harsh Mayan sunlight, killers in this film are twenty four hour party vegetables!
The film is not without it’s bad points. The group do some dumb things, and display alarming masochistic tendencies in their attempts to survive their situation. A couple of interesting plot lines that have the plants developing psychic powers in order to drive their prey mad go undeveloped and an accidental death by knife wound appears rather contrived, but these are minor flaws.
Paramount’s DVD contains some interesting extra scenes removed by the director and editor in order to enhance the film’s momentum that I feel ought to have been left in. One of these sequences lend more credence to one of the character’s actions during the film’s final scenes, these and an alternative ending are given an interesting commentary, along with the main film by Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Carter Smith
English language / USA / 2008 / 87 minutes / Colour
Region 2 / PAL
A Paramount Home Entertainment Release
DVD release date 13th October 2008