‘The Ruins’ – A Derivative Horror Misstep from ‘A Simple Plan’ Author
The Ruins has a lot in common with Eli Roth‘s Hostel. It is a film about Americans on vacation in Mexico, who meets up with a fellow traveler who tells them of a great adventure to be had by all. The adventure in Hostel was the three backpackers going to Slovakia for a snipur hunt. In The Ruins, the guys already have girlfriends, so they’re already getting all the snipur they can handle. The adventure for the five of them, four Americans and one German, is the site of an archaeological dig in the ruins of a Mayan temple. It sounds like so much fun. Oh, sure, it’s all fun and games until the natives don’t let you leave the place because you’ve become infected by the plant life that can not only get under your skin and consume you from the inside out, it can mimic the sound of your voice and even your cell phone. Can you hear me now? Good!
Another thing The Ruins has in common with Hostel is that the token foreign guy loses a body part in a violent way. In Hostel, it was the off-screen beheading of the Icelandic Oli at the hands of his captors. In The Ruins, it’s the very gruesome and chilling amputation and cauterization of Mathias the German’s legs after they become infected by the nefarious fauna growing around them.
Hmm, you know what? From this point forward The Ruins shall be known as Hostel with Plant Life. That’s not a good thing, ladies and gentlemen. Hostel was a good film, one of my favorites, in fact. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be remade as a plants on the rampage motion picture.
In adapting his own bestselling novel, author Scott Smith failed to translate ‘The Ruins’ into an effective film, resulting in a limp 2008 horror thriller that feels derivative of superior genre fare. When vacationing American friends become trapped on ancient Mayan ruins, they fall prey to both hostile locals and a parasitic vine with a taste for human flesh. But the premise outpaces the execution.
Echoing ‘Hostel’, the script separates five young tourists from the safe bubble of their Cancun resort. Lured to remote ruins by a fellow traveler, they soon realize they’ve become captives hunted by an insidious vine that infects human hosts. As its tendrils invade their bodies, infection spreads and hysteria mounts.
But the tourist-terror formula feels overplayed, failing to generate investment in the thinly drawn characters. And the novelty of malevolent flora as the villain wears thin quickly, reducing the latter half to gruesome repetition as the friends hack away infected limbs.
Where ‘A Simple Plan’ excavated darkness from within ordinary people, ‘The Ruins’ relies on exterior threat, and not a very compelling one. Atmospheric cinematography and committed performances hint at a smarter film that Smith fails to nurture. In the end it’s a familiar horror ride with largely shallow scares.
The Ruins is based on a novel by Scott Smith. If you remember, Smith is also the author and screenwriter of A Simple Plan. With that film, Smith looked like he may indeed be the next big thing. With The Ruins, he leaves us wondering what the big deal was in the first place.
Even though the novel and the screenplay were written by the same person, the deaths of the characters are switched around. In the film, Stacy cuts her knee and the plants start growing inside her. She ends up killing Eric and begs for the others to kill her. In the book, it’s Eric who cuts his knee, and he kills Mathias. In the film, Mathias breaks his back and later gets his legs cut off. In the novel, this happens to Pablo (who is called Dimitri in the film). In the film, Jeff is killed by the Mayans trying to save Amy so she can escape. In the novel, Jeff is killed by the Mayans trying to escape after Amy has been killed by the plants during the night. In the novel, Stacy is the last survivor. She commits suicide in front of the ruins to warn off others who might find the ruins. But the plants make her body disappear. In the novel, Amy is the first character to die. In the film, she is the only one who survives and, unlike any of the characters in the novel, she actually manages to escape.
The graphic amputation scene was the first to be presented to studio executives for approval.
The female corpse discovered inside the temple by Amy and Stacy is intended to be the same character seen screaming for help at the very beginning of the film, but the living character and the corpse were played by different actresses.
Jonathan Tucker as Jeff
Jena Malone as Amy
Shawn Ashmore as Eric
Laura Ramsey as Stacy
Joe Anderson as Mathias
Directed by Carter Smith
Screenplay by Scott B. Smith
Based on the novel by Scott Smith