The Ruins

I should probably be warning you about the lousy dialog in George Clooney’s misguided screwball comedy, Leatherheads . Or maybe I should be telling you that Smart People , starring Dennis Quaid as a depressed and depressing college teacher, is anything but smart. Then again – I suppose I just did. Instead of reviewing those movies in detail, I find that, against my better judgment, I keep gravitating towards a horror movie that I saw weeks ago, that I can’t get out of my head.

The film is called The Ruins . And while I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone but a genre fan – and then only to a die hard, who is willing to put up with a bad movie just to get to the original stuff – it contains an image so brilliant, so disturbing, for certain seekers, it’s worth it. It’s not what you see, it’s the implications of what you see. All I will tell you is that it involves the hunt for a ringing cell phone.

Killer plants have made up a weird sub-genre in science fiction and horror movies, from the ambulatory, carnivorous shrubs in Day of the Triffids to the surly trees in The Wizard of Oz and the horny ones in Evil Dead , to the blood-sucking bud in Little Shop of Horrors . There’s even a sub-sub genre of killer vines, represented in animation by Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and a whole host of Japanese anime, and recently in the stranglers of the first Harry Potter film and Minority Report .

Strange that plants keep (ahem) cropping up as villains, when they are (cough) rooted to the spot and can’t chase you. Okay, a triffid can chase you, but you take my point. Some deep part of our reptile brain must recognize that plants are aggressively competing living things, and we should beware. I’m not sure if anxiety about female genitalia isn’t also a part of it, too. Scott B. Smith, who wrote the screenplay for The Ruins and the book it’s based on, has done some thinking about how plants adapt, and the result is a mostly-original take on malevolent flora.

I wish I could say that the characters are just as original. Instead, let’s guess who’s going to be compost. Amy, Jena Malone, is the brunette smart one who is reluctant to explore the jungles of Mexico with only a decaying map as guidance. My money is on her to survive this thing. Laura Ramsey, who plays bubble-headed, blond Stacy, is asked by director Carter Smith to get naked for no reason, which she does spectacularly. I give her forty-five minutes of screen time.

Then there are the guys. There’s uptight Jeff, Jonathan, Tucker, Amy-the-smart-one’s boyfriend, whom we see shirtless only seconds after he’s probably done 300 reps on the BowFlex. He’s going to be a doctor; chances are his medical training will come in handy, don’t you think? Eric, Stacy-the-dumb-one’s boyfriend, might just escape your memory altogether. And there’s the foreign guy, Mathias, Joe Anderson, who isn’t part of a couple, and is soon to be a double amputee.

The five friends, with the aid of that ancient map, come upon the ruins of an unknown ziggurat deep in the jungle. Perhaps the deadly vine that covers the edifice releases spores that make it invisible to planes. The boys and girls get three steps up the pyramid before they are ringed by mysterious federales, speaking a bizarre language, wielding machetes, pistols, and bow-and-arrows (!), and who refuse to let anyone leave.

It may seem like I’ve told you too much, but I haven’t. After all, we’re dealing with a variation on a theme here. Those who are better adjusted than myself need not apply. But for you – and if by that I mean you, God bless you – what you need to know is that this boilerplate is crisply shot and nicely paced. One simply unforgettable image, plus the revolting, squiggly plant equivalent of the Guinea worm and a generous carving of thigh meat, might make this turkey worth it.

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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