The Ruins

Director    Carter Smith
Starring    Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson, Jonathan Tucker
Release    APR 4 (US) JUN 20 (UK)    Certificate 18
3 stars


26th June 2008

"This doesn't just happen!" yells one of The Ruins' clueless young protagonists. "Four Americans on vacation don't just disappear!" These guys obviously don't watch many horror films. Firstly, they think it's a great idea to go "off the beaten path" in Mexico. The path's beaten for a reason, a-holes. Secondly, if they'd seen recent movies like Hostel and Paradise Lost, they'd know it's absolutely possible to fall off the map and into a whole world of hurt. If they fit the criteria - young, promiscuous, no respect for other cultures - then chances are they'll be travelling back to the USA in a body bag, if at all.

These four Americans - two guys, two girls - are a bunch of thrill-seeking backpackers who wind up following their fellow travellers as they trek through the Mexican jungle to visit the site of an 'archaeological dig'. As soon as they find themselves at the foot of an ominous-looking ancient Mayan temple, they're staring down the business end of an ass-kicking at the hands of the local gun-toting militia, who are pissed that these dirty tourists are upsetting the area's natural equilibrium. Forced to the summit and stranded under the scorching sun, our unhappy campers discover why they're not allowed to leave: the vast swathes of foliage that covers the temple has a mind of its own.

So we've established that the douches caught in the middle of this latest horror shitstorm don't know jack about horror movie survival. But The Ruins is actually far smarter than your average 'teens in peril' fright-fest. The standard template may be to have your cast terrorised by dark forces unknown - a masked killer, a shadowy beast, a ghostly presence - but in The Ruins, the 'monster' is almost incidental: the damage that undoes our hapless heroes is mostly self-inflicted, brought on by the sheer fear the surrounding shrubbery generates. The creeping vines that cover the temple might not look scary - in killer plant terms we're definitely not in Audrey II territory - but, like George Romero's shuffling zombies, they're gonna get you eventually. It's this promise of a slow death that eventually drives the characters insane, and it's this refusal to use cheap scare tactics that marks The Ruins out as a refreshing break from the norm.

Naturally, some concessions are made to your average horror movie audience. There's some wonderfully gory, though totally unnecessary, scenes of dismemberment. There's a sex scene, albeit an extremely unsexy and equally unnecessary one. And it wouldn't be a horror movie at all if one of the characters didn't go into a deep dark, obviously nasty hole with nothing but a torch-lamp and a quizzical expression on their face. Strangely, considering it's adapted from a book - written by Scott Smith of A Simple Plan fame - the script is pretty weak throughout; there's no memorable lines or smartass teen dialogue (although I guess we should be grateful for that last one - no one wants to see Juno of the Jungle). Otherwise, it's a blast - short-lived and silly, but never The Happening silly.

It won't change the way you think about horror movies; it won't have you fearing the environment; it's not worth skipping a Hancock or a Wanted or a Dark Knight for. But if you fancy a goofy little thrill that's a ray of sunshine compared to the usual glut of gloomy slasher flicks and tawdry torture pornos, The Ruins is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe it does pay to go off the beaten path once in a while after all. Ali

More:  Horror  Thriller  Sex  Monster
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