When you were in college, did you and some friends ever take a trip to some far flung locale in hopes of soaking up some local flavor, having adventure and perhaps exploring some ancient civilizations? It’s safe to say your trip went better than the one in 2008’s “The Ruins”. In it a group of American college students vacationing in Mexico meet some Greeks who encourage them to visit an archaeological dig in the jungle. Once there, the locals won’t let them leave the site. The coeds quickly discover not only are they trapped but they are trapped among blood thirsty, carnivorous vines surrounding the site. Yes, that’s right, this film is about KILLER VINES!
“…this film is about KILLER VINES!”
Despite the film getting a largely negative response from critics and being only a moderate success at the box office upon its release, the film has developed a small cult following in recent years.
Scott (“A Simple Plan”) Smith wrote the best-selling 2006 pulp-horror novel of the same name and also penned the screenplay, a rarity in the horror genre. Fashion photographer Carter Smith makes his directorial debut here and the attractive young cast is rounded out by mostly newcomers including Jenna Malone as pretty girl-next-door Amy, Shawn Ashmore as hunky bro Eric, Jonathan Tucker as cute and brainy Jeff and Laura Ramsay as blonde hottie Stacy and Joe Anderson as Euro-hipster Mathias.
If you’ve been chuckling while reading this because the man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” keeps coming to mind, then think again. The vines in “The Ruins” don’t tell any jokes while singing (but they can mimic sound!) and they play some serious mind games with our unfortunate coeds. These vines are so crafty in fact, that with the exception of one coed, the vines don’t actually kill anyone themselves. They get the humans to do it for them!
Sunburnt, dehydrated, fearing no help will arrive and increasingly paranoid, everyone’s mental state deteriorates and they start to turn on one another. The vines literally get under the skin of fratboy Ashmore and bombshell Ramsay. This is when things start to get seriously bloody! Aspiring doctor Tucker no doubt wishes he had chosen a different career path after he is called upon to hack both legs off of his buddy Ashmore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he also has to slice gorgeous Laura Ramsay all over several parts of her body to yank out the pesky vines. After a less than restful nights sleep, our gang awakens to see that Ramsay has picked up where Tucker left off and sliced herself to ribbons trying to get more vines (real or imagined) out of her.
“…they all wished they had done a staycation back in the USA.”
I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I won’t give away the fates of the remaining coeds. Suffice to say, they all wished they had done a staycation back in the USA. The screenplay made significant changes to the novel, including moving the action to the top of actual ruins (in the book, “the ruins” are just a grassy hill), switching around the characters’ fates, and adding a more optimistic ending.
Although tourists meeting grisly fates (“Hostel”, “Turistas”) had been a popular trope in horror films in the years surrounding the film, the idea of tourists encountering homicidal flora didn’t exactly sound like it would strike fear into the heart of moviegoers in the same way that, say encountering a village full of blood-thirsty cannibals would. Perhaps the film’s less than stellar success can be blamed on not being marketed correctly. But Director Smith and Production Designer Grant Major deserve considerable plaudits for accomplishing what seemed impossible: turning carnivorous vines into a ghastly villain. Serious time and effort was spent making the vines look real and fearsome. The film is also notable for nearly all its scenes taking place in daytime, which can be very difficult to make scary and is rarely done in horror films. Overall, an underrated film and one which definitely deserves a viewing for horror devotees. Currently streaming on Amazon.
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Greg Lewis is a pop culture and entertainment vulture. As a freelance writer living in LA, he’ll never run out of material, even if he runs out of Xanax.