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The Ruins

A movie directed by Carter Smith

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Does gore equal suspense?

  • Apr 29, 2012
**1/2 out of ****

"The Ruins" has some of the clearest cinematography I've seen in the dark, dark places of any horror movie in some time. While most genre pictures contain nighttime scenes in which most things on-camera are nigh impossible to see, everything here looks absolutely crisp. When a character descends into a pitch black abyss, we see only what we need to see; and that's plenty. When night falls, the torches of the secondary antagonists light the way, and even then, our eyes don't need to do much adjusting before we get to see a lot. But, given all this great nighttime and dark place photography, I found myself wishing that so much effort could have been put into a better, more satisfying movie. But you know...win-win situations, in cinema, are not exactly scarce these days.

A duet of young American tourist couples (not nameless, yet not worth naming) meet up with a charming German played by Joe Anderson to explore some long lost, uncharted Mayan ruins somewhere in Mexico. They make it a day trip by bus and by foot, but upon arriving to the site, things seem terribly wrong. Some Mayan villagers come out of nowhere, kill one of the German's local friends who was traveling with the group by bow and arrow, and basically trap the others at the top of the ruins. On the tip top, there are some tents, a deep dark shaft, and some odd looking vegetation that the Mayan villagers appear to be quite afraid of. When a cell phone is heard from the bottom of the shaft, the German goes to investigate, gets stranded down there with both his legs broken from the fall that he endured, and the others are, well, scared.

But why are the villagers so afraid of the flowery vines? Why is it that, when a clump is thrown at a little Mayan boy, he is shot dead on the spot? And why, oh why, is the cellphone broken but the ringing sound present? "The Ruins" is, above all, a movie about evil plants that can reproduce the sounds that they somehow hear and grow inside of a host body once they come into close contact with it. Such a premise makes way for many stomach-churning and disgusting scenes; such as an amputation, an all-out skin removal by knife, and a head being blown clean off. This is all standard horror fare - and it won't shock me, most of you, or just about anyone with experience in watching what some would call "extreme horror" - but I won't deny that it's pretty damn gross most of the time.

But I know that such graphic violence and gore can serve a purpose in the medium of film. Here, it's just there to evoke a simple reaction rather than one of more emotional complexity. The filmmakers were obviously bent on making a horror flick free of force-fed moralism and heavy-handed message making, which I respect. But when the violence kicks into full gear, it's like nothing is achieved. There isn't so much a psychological reaction than one of the stomach. Did I ever care about the characters? Did I ever care about the story? Ultimately, the problem with this movie is that - no matter how much blood is shed - there still isn't a sufficient sense of danger in even the most gore-filled sequences. I'll say this much of it: the film is entertaining from beginning to end, but at the same time, too shallow to really recommend. It will be appreciated by some and surely loathed by others; yet I find myself on the edge. To be entertained is not necessarily the same as to be completely engaged.

So my final verdict is that "The Ruins" is more style than substance. There's beautiful cinematography and colorful scenery, eye-opening gore effects, and there are even some decent performances from Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey, and Shawn Ashmore among others. But the dramatic elements, which eventually come in full swing, are pretty weak. Yes, the film is stylized like an elaborate and very different slasher picture (with plants!), but it ends up being less creative and engaging than I would have wanted it to be. Still, it was competently made enough for me to have some good fun with it, if nothing more. With luck, I'll have no trouble forgetting about "The Ruins"; as it only momentarily crawls under your skin and screws with the ever-delicate nerves. It's kind of a mess, and kind of not; all I know is that I wasn't sure whether to laugh or to utter an "ew" a minute.

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May 01, 2012
The book gripped me. I've held off on the movie because it is said not to measure up. Thank you for sharing your incisive critique.
April 30, 2012
I give this points for an attempt at originality. cool line "slasher with plants' LOL!
More The Ruins (movie) reviews
review by . August 11, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Not Exactly A
Scientists have theorized that there are certain extinct plant life that can possibly induce partial mind control through their spores. They can cause anxiety, paranoia and fear to protect themselves from predators. Fossils have been found to support these theories and some plant life are even believed to be meat eaters and is capable of attracting prey. One plant that still exists today is the “Venus Flytrap” which is a predatory plant, so what do you think the possibilities are for …
review by . March 25, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
I'll admit that when I first saw the trailer for "The Ruins" in theaters, I was pretty interested in seeing it. Once in finally came out, however, I decided that it looked more like a DVD rental. In my opinion, I was correct.    The film begins with a young lady in a dark room crying for help. As usual, she can't get a signal on her cellphone and she is eventually pulled into the darkness screaming all the way. From there, the film introduces us to four of the primary players …
review by . September 08, 2008
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this movie and having not read the book I was surprised to find it to be pretty decent. It starts off just like an original horror movie but shift as you get further into it. The Ruins takes place in Mexico with four college-age kids (Tucker, Malone, Ashmore and Ramsy) and another guy (Anderson), the latter who takes them to a Mayan temple where his brother is working supposedly on a dig. When they get there, a bunch of angry Mexican-Myans attack them, they …
review by . October 29, 2008
The Ruins - Movie
Couples Amy and Jeff, and Stacy and Eric are vacationing in Mexico. By the pool they meet a German named Mathius, who says his brother Heinrich is missing and he's going to go look for him near some ruins. Mathius talks the couples into going with him. Heinrich left a map showing the location of the ruins, far off the tourist area of the Yucatan.     The next day the couples and Mathius set out, accompanied by Demitri, a Greek friend who doesn't speak English. After a bus, a …
review by . September 29, 2008
Four young, attractive Americans are in Mexico for a few days of Spring Break-like laying around and drinking. They meet a young, attractive German guy who encourages them to go with him to visit a Mayan ruin that is off the tourist radar. You see, his brother, an archeologist, has gone there with his girlfriend...otherwise they'd have the place to themselves. The Americans, in a nod towards soaking up some history & culture, accompany their new friend to the ruin, which is nothing more than a modest …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Whether you consider plants a source of terror or not will ultimately determine how you feel about the grisly horror movieThe Ruins, but director Carter Smith and his cast and crew certainly give their all in bringing the chills of Scott Smith's novel to the big screen. Jena Malone (Saved) and Shawn Ashmore (theX-Menfranchise) are the name actors in a pair of American couples down Mexico way who are ambushed by hostile Mayans and forced to the top of an ancient temple, where a monstrous and diabolically clever entity awaits them. Director Smith and his talented crew (which includes cinematographer Darius Khondji ofSe7enfame and composer Graeme Revell) create a visually impressive spookshow but can't quite deliver genuine suspense (gore, however, is handled capably), and Scott Smith's script boils away much of the character development and mounting terror in his book, which also strands the likeable cast. The movie's monster, so alarming and imaginative in the original novel, is likely to provoke as many laughs as screams from filmgoers, especially when it reveals its unique talent.-- Paul Gaita
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Director: Carter Smith
Genre: Action, Adventure, Horror
Release Date: April 4, 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Scott B. Smith
DVD Release Date: July 8, 2008
Runtime: 1hr 30min
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
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