There’s a general rule I tend to follow in life. It’s called the ‘stay away from the equator if you don’t want to get eaten alive by some other living organism’ rule. And I think I adhere to it for good reason. Think of all the times someone goes somewhere tropical and comes back with a crazy disease that makes them lay fish eggs or some shit. No thank you. 2008’s The Ruins, directed by Carter Smith, is another example of the horrors that await in the warmer climes of our planet, and all the more proof that I’ll steer clear of such areas. It’s not just the spiders. This movie proves it. If you haven’t seen the film and come to understand what flavor of death it’s serving up then we highly recommend you stop here, check out the trailer, and maybe go watch the movie before proceeding. If you’re good with spoilers, then here we go.
Reviewed by: Jake
Four young Americans take a vacation to Mexico. This could literally be the start to any movie. The two couples, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone), and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), spend their time doing what you’d expect on such a vacation; getting bombed on tequila and sitting in the sun till their skin peels. Near the end of their trip, they run into a German traveler named Mathias (Joe Anderson), who invites them to come check out an archaeological dig his brother is on at a Mayan temple. Naturally, the group accepts and make their way into the forested Mexican interior. After a hike, they discover the temple, but it appears to be deserted until they are confronted by a group of native villagers who seem extraordinarily displeased with them being near the temple. They try to communicate but this only riles the gun-flailing leader up even further until the villagers shoot a random Greek guy the group brings along with both an arrow and a gun. It’s pretty clear these villagers are pissed off and are not fucking around. The group is forced up the temple to the top and are surrounded by the villagers. Naturally, their first though is that they are being used as sacrifices.
After finding Mathias’ brother’s gear, they really start freaking out. The main problem is that they don’t have any cell service to call for help. They hear a ring from the bottom of a long shaft descending from the top of the temple and decided they need to fish out the phone in order to call for help. Mathias goes down but the rope he’s on breaks and he falls to the bottom of the pit, breaking his back and paralyzing himself. The group then sends Stacy down. She also (obviously) doesn’t have enough rope to get to the bottom so she has to jump, hurting her knee in the process. Next goes Amy to help, and the two girls build a backboard to put Mathias on and haul him back up.
From here, matters only get worse. Amy is convinced she needs to explain to the villagers that they need help so she goes down the temple, much to their captors’ chagrin. In a tantrum, she throws some vines and hits a kid square in the chest. To make it painfully clear they aren’t fucking around, the villagers immediately shoot the little boy in the head, scaring Amy back up the temple. Mathis’ situation is dire, and the group knows he needs medical help or he will die. They break his legs with hot stones and cut them off with a multitool and cauterize the stumps with a cast iron skillet. It’s gnarly. It doesn’t help though because he ends up getting engulfed by some suspiciously mobile plant life soon thereafter.
Next, they discover some of the vines have gotten under Stacy’s skin. Literally. They cut her open and yank them out, but she begins behaving erratically and takes the knife to keep cutting herself, believing there to be more vines somewhere inside her body. The group tries to stop her but she stabs her boyfriend, Eric, in the chest with the knife, killing him. He’s dragged away by the plants. A very wounded and mentally unstable Stacey begs for Amy to kill her and she obliges. Knowing they are being held by the natives as a sort of quarantine after their exposure to the plants, Amy and Jeff know they have to try to make a run for it. Jeff carries Amy down the temple and creates a diversion by pretending she is dead, aggravating the Mayans into attacking him while drawing attention away from Amy who pops up and makes a run for it in the ruckus. She reaches the vehicle they brought and drives away, presumably to die shortly afterward from the same internal vine complications that got Stacey. Who knows how bad the epidemic might get.
What the Movie Does Right
This is a surprisingly grisly movie. While it doesn’t revel in excess gore or extended sequences of violence, when it does choose to get gory, it really goes for it. The leg scene is extremely cringeworthy and some of the additional effects related to the violence in the film, from Stacey getting carved up like a Thanksgiving Turkey to the Greek dude taking a bullet to the nose. These are very well put together scenes and profoundly uncomfortable to witness. This is made more powerful by the fact that there aren’t a ton of them in the film. It’s relatively well paced in that way.
Another thing I have to give credit to the film for is a pretty unique concept. I just can’t name many movies like this. Sure there are killer plant movies. Sure there are people getting fucked with in the woods movies. But this particular confluence of horror concepts leads to a series of highly unfortunate events for the American tourists and further proof that there are many, many ways to die horrible deaths in the tropics.
It doesn’t hurt that I thought the majority of the performances were believable enough and well handled by the respective actors and actresses. Their dire situation and dwindling resources, which the movie strips away in a very believable way, make for some interpersonal drama and downright hysterical situations which are handled well throughout the film.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Why, oh why, do the natives bother with this shit. Are they too scared of coming in contact with the exposed kids to waste their precious ammunition? They clearly don’t hesitate to kill when they know someone is infected by the plants (they quickly shoot their own little boy in the head) so then why, when they first fired at the Greek guy, did they not also shoot at the rest of them and get it all over with? It doesn’t seem that the villagers take any sort of perverse pleasure in the act of banishing the people to the top of the temple to die slowly, nor does it appear that the act was one of sacrifice as much as it was simply to keep the kids quarantined. It makes no sense why they took all the time they did to let this play out in this way. It does successfully paint them as being more remorseless and I suppose it’s also a device to keep the attention on them as the villain as opposed to the plants, but by the time the “reveal” happens, you already know what the deal is. It’s a weird choice that cuts so deep into the plot of the film that it makes it hard to understand or focus on much else after you start thinking about it.
Another immersion-breaking aspect of this movie are the plants themselves. There are times where the growth looks acceptable but there are also, and perhaps more, times where the movement of the plants is some seriously not good looking cg. This gets even worse when the story unveils that the plants have a predatory tactic of mimicking noises like a cell phone ring in order to lure their human prey into close enough proximity. It’s not until fairly deep into the movie that you see what this looks like, but boy oh boy does it look like computery ass.
Story: 6 - As I mentioned earlier, this is a pretty unique little mixture of horror elements. There are enough things going on here to have a little soup a-goin’. However, a very crucial element of the story (why don’t the natives just shoot them) is completely and totally unexplained. Typically this would go in the next category because it does break immersion, but the neglect is such that it influences all of the events that take place throughout the vast majority of the movie’s runtime. That’s big.
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - This is a surprisingly watchable movie. It’s almost exactly 90 minutes long and it’s novel enough that there’s a lot of added novelty mileage for you as a horror fan. Despite the big problem I mentioned above, which does play into this score, I think you’ll be able to focus on the screen enough to not hate your time in the slightest.
Scare-Factor: 5- Shit in the tropics wants you dead. Don’t go there. You’ll end up in a gory situation that will make for some teeth-gnashingly uncomfortable situations for viewers.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - The gore in this movie looks great. Like, really really gross. But great. The sound associated is also great. The only main issue I had was with some of the plant CG.
Overall: 6 - This is a novel enough entry into the genre that you should see it. I walk away taking some major issues with the plot, but it’s still a mostly entertaining and white-knuckled affair. Give it a rip.