out of Five
Running time: 91
Enjoyable, well made and genuinely creepy horror flick that transcends its ridiculous premise thanks to a strong script, some sure-handed direction and superb performances from a talented young cast.
What's it all about?
Based on the novel by Scott Smith, The Ruins stars Jena Malone and Laura Ramsey as best friends Amy and Stacy, who are vacationing in Mexico with their two very different boyfriends: serious med student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and party animal Eric (Shawn Ashmore). When they meet a friendly German (Brit actor Joe Anderson as Mathias), they are persuaded to head into the Mexican jungle in the hopes of seeing some ancient Mayan ruins.
Unfortunately, when they reach the ruins, they discover some extremely hostile natives and they're forced to take refuge on top of a crumbling stone structure. However, their problems are only just beginning, because the structure appears to be crawling with man-eating killer vines.
The talented cast are a cut above the usual teen horror fodder, creating likeable characters that we genuinely root for, even though we know that, statistically speaking, not all of them are going to make it. In addition, the film looks terrific, with impressive special effects work and photography courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Darius Khondji (Se7en).
The script is excellent and director Carter Smith gets the tone exactly right, playing everything straight, despite the ridiculous premise, and orchestrating some genuinely creepy scenes. He also includes some impressively nasty gory moments that, crucially, derive naturally from the characters and situations rather than just looking to gross you out for the hell of it.
The film does have the occasional lapse of judgment, for example (look away now if you want to avoid spoilers!), the moment where it's revealed that the vines can mimic mobile phones. What would have happened if someone had had Baby Got Back as their ringtone instead, eh?
In short, The Ruins is a worthy addition to the Tourism Is Bad genre that ensures that you'll never look at a rustling vine quite the same way again. Highly recommended.