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The Ruins (2008)


Watch out, Martha Stewart! Not even your garden tools can stop the predators in The Ruins, a Hollywood adaptation of Scott Smith’s novel. They aren’t mummies, pharaohs, or cannibalistic tribesman, but killer flowers: They may seem innocent, but when reaching out to touch them, watch out for razor-sharp teeth and toxic venom.

No, this isn’t a comedy like Little Shop of Horrors, but a shocking and disturbing experience that slaughters any comedic notions audiences may have after realizing they’re watching a movie about killer flowers. Does the sight of a girl cutting herself open and pulling plants from her wounds make you cringe? Then prepare for one of the most unsettling horror films of the year.

Jena Malone and Laura Ramsey star as best friends Amy and Stacy, who bring their boyfriends, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore), with them to Mexico on vacation. After running into a German tourist named Mathias (Joe Anderson) and his Greek friend (Dimitri Baveas), they decide to take a break from pools and margaritas and check out a Mayan ruin in the jungle where Mathias’ brother has gone missing.

The vacationers find the gigantic, vine-covered pyramid and are eager to explore. After noticing the group walking through the twisty vines, the local Mayans — who don’t speak English — become violent. Without warning, they riddle Dimitri with arrows and bullets, forcing the others to the top of the pyramid. After a while Amy, Stacy, Jeff, Eric, and Mathias realize that they’re being quarantined. Could it be their exposure to the mysterious vines? Maybe the Mayans are allergic.

In a movie about killer plants, it would be easy to resort to cheap thrills. But The Ruins uses its brain and draws terror from psychological horror, not cheese ball special effects. The man-eating flowers merely set the stage for a movie about survival and madness. Will someone come to rescue the vacationers? How long can they wait? Can they escape the Mayans if they make a run for it? Why are there plants growing out of their leg wounds? The young adults struggle to maintain their sanity. By the end, they pose a more bigger danger to themselves than the vines do.

There are no household names in the movie (although Ben Stiller did produce), but the lead actors are familiar faces and skillfully portray a wide range of human emotions, ranging from fear and confusion to suspicion, denial, and insanity. There’s little doubt that the filmmaking process was a mentally exhausting journey for them.

The Ruins should have further explored the psychological disintegration of the vacationers. With some big plot points unexplained, the movie never quite taps into its full potential. For instance, at one point, the flowers ‘speak’ to Stacy and convince her that Amy and Eric are having sex behind her back. Can the flowers read minds? The film could have revealed or developed plot points like this without taking away the mystery of the plants. The Ruins could have allotted more time for the characters to turn on each other, too.

Still, with One Missed Call, Shutter, and Prom Night delivering sell-out, watered down, PG-13 thrills, The Ruins is a breath of fresh air, and certainly not a horror movie that’s easy to forget.

The unrated-cut DVD includes deleted scenes (including the original theatrical ending, which I actually prefer), a third alternate ending, commentary track, and three making-of featurettes.

My parents went to Mexico and all I got was this nasty infection.