By Vic Holtreman
Short version: While The Ruins has virtually no plot, the characters aren't cardboard cutouts and if you're looking for a cringe-inducing horror movie you may actually enjoy it.
Yes, folks, you read that rating correctly: The Ruins is better than 10,000 B.C.
No, it wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible for this sort of movie. The saving grace here is a combination of the actors' performances and the direction they were given by writer/director of the film Scott Smith.
I'm not saying they were Oscar-worthy, but I actually felt like they were people and not just stereotypical cannon fodder. By the time the bad stuff starts happening you can at least feel some sort of connection to them, as opposed to say, the disposable characters in Aliens vs Predator: Requiem.
Plot? One short sentence: A group of young, cornered American tourists try to survive man-eating plants.
The film opens with a young woman crouched in what looks like a cave, weeping and trying repeatedly to get a connection on her cell phone. We assume (correctly) that she is not long for this world. At first this really bugged me because I thought "Great, another one of those start with the ending movies," but I got over it as the movie went on. From there we get your standard babes in bikinis scene (nothing wrong with that in a horror flick as far as I'm concerned) where we meet the main characters: Jeff (Jonathan Tucker ), Eric (Shawn Ashmore), Amy (Jena Malone), and Stacy (Laura Ramsey).
Jeff (who looks distractingly like a young Christian Bale) is the responsible one in the group and his girlfriend is Amy. Amy deserves special mention because while in the film she sometimes wears glasses, she is without a doubt the stupidest glasses-wearing female character in the history of film. Why is this a sticking point for me? Because invariably, in movies they always put glasses on attractive women to imply intelligence. More on that later.
Eric, as mentioned above, is played by Shawn Ashmore - he was the only one in the cast I recognized because he plays
Jimmy Olsen in the >Smallville TV series (sorry, Shawn is a twin brother to Eric, and that's the Smallville guy) Iceman in the X-Men movies. He looks quite a bit older here than he does on the show. His girlfriend is Stacey, the required big-breasted blonde.
They meet the gallant Mathias (played by Joe Anderson), a German tourist who is heading out the next morning to find his brother, who went to an off-the-map archaeological dig with some other hottie (who presumably wears glasses too, I suppose). Our gang has been doing nothing but hanging by the pool and drinking margaritas for their entire vacation so Jeff talks them into going with Mathias.
The next morning they head out for the site and after hiking for a bit they find a trail that has been purposely hidden. The women express concern and the guys of course, do not. They head on through and this is where the trouble begins.
A large local fellow pops out of the jungle yelling at them in some non-hispanic language and things get ugly really, really fast. They can't communicate so it's difficult to determine what's going on. He's packing a revolver and pointing it wildly in their direction and soon a couple of guys with bows and arrows arrive to join him. Now let's get to the "stupid chick with glasses" part of things - When the first guy shows up, although he's waving a gun and screaming at them, Amy the amateur photographer thinks it's a great opportunity to snap a photo of one of the local residents. Her level-headed boyfriend Jeff tells her to stop. Shortly after the additional arrow-wielding guys arrive and they all seem to actually be getting somewhere with the dialog, she decides to (yup, you guessed it) take another picture despite the delicate situation.
Much mayhem and death follows directly afterwards.
They are forced up onto a Mayan pyramid, and for some reason the locals don't follow them. Soon an encampment springs up around the pyramid and it's clear that our young friends aren't going anywhere any time soon.
When they reach the top they discover a set up with a pulley and rope and it's obvious that Mathias' brother and/or archaeological babe used it to decend into the pyramid. They need someone to go down there because he hears his brother's cell phone ringing and none them have one that has reception there.
Although things have already starting going downhill at the base of the pyramid, of course they only get worse.
So what's good? Like I said, although Amy annoyed the living hell out of me with her uber-naive ways, I actually thought the characters had at least some depth for a movie of this sort. They also did a decent job of slowly introducing the plants as a menace, and the movie actually had a couple of surprises that I didn't see coming. The only had a couple of "jump scenes," which I really think are a cheap way to scare the audience. Also the scenes that involved gore were really well done. I literally cringed and groaned in my seat at a couple of them. I also liked the slow breakdown and realization of the situation.
What's not good? There was more than one stretch where I was frankly, bored and just waiting for the next "thing" to happen. The lack of more of a plot, although I suppose the threadbare one that was there was sufficient for the purpose of the film. And of course, the stupidity of the Amy character, not just in the above scene but throughout the ordeal.
Overall I have to say that this was much better than I expected, however that doesn't mean it's some diamond in the rough, either. If you're into horror movies it's worth a look, but if extremely graphic gore turns you off, it's not for you.