The Ruins (2008)
A Killer What?
A flowering vine. It’s a giant network of vines with big red flowers covering the outside and inside of an ancient Mayan pyramid. The vine produces an acidic sap that can dissolve flesh in a few hours, a sort of mold-spore that grows on the sking and clothing of anyone that touches it, can detach small vines that crawl about in the skin of people with open wounds, and can mimic sounds by vibrating the filaments within. It’s held at bay by a wide area of nothing but sand mixed with salt to keep it confined to the pyramid.
Is It Any Good?
It’s pretty good but not great. It involves a group of college students who follow a friendly German guy to meet his brother at an excavation site on some Mayan ruins. When they arrive, some locals show up with guns and bows and chase them up onto the pyramid and keep a day and night vigil so they can’t leave. But the real danger is the ruins themselves because the plants growing all over the pyramid aren’t harmless, they’re part of a vast organism that eats meat.
The Ruins by Scott Smith is the bleakest most upsetting book I have ever read. The second most bleak and upsetting book I ever read was A Simple Plan. Who wrote that book? Scott Smith.
Scott Smith has written two books in his career and both of those books have been made into movies. Both of those movies are thoroughly downtrodden and upsetting affairs but let me tell you that they do not hold a candle to the books on which they’re based. As bleak and mean as the films are they both flinch before they get to the really disturbing stuff. These two books have sat with me ever since I read them and when I think about them I get a little twinge in my stomach. I want you to understand that I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Davil Morrell’s Testament and they didn’t affect me as profoundly as these two books.
I actually saw the movie The Ruins before I read the book, this was back in 2008 when it was in theaters. I really didn’t like it. Still, I read the book, found it to be as wonderful a character study as it was a depressent and reframed the movie in my mind. This is my first time watching the movie since then and I’ve come to appreciate the movie for what it is.
I’m going to save you some trouble here, readers. Nobody survives, the plant wins and everybody involved is fucked. The sooner you accept that fact the sooner you can find enjoyment in the movie because hope gets in the way of the message of the movie: life isn’t fair.
The book highlights this much better due to its ability to sit in the characters’ minds and see how they’re falling apart, but at the heart of this it’s about very real people in an unreal situation and how they would realistically react. They make a series of terrible mistakes, they turn on each other, they act irrationally, they make bad judgment calls that get others and themselves mutilated and killed. It’s brutal and mean and unfair and that’s the point, which is why on this viewing I was more bothered by the fact that the book’s two most affecting deaths are left out. And the nature of the plant organism is different. In the movie the plant seems to just be acting on instinct, true it does do some sound manipulation to turn them against one another but it largely seems to be a big unthinking thing, in the book it’s a malefic organism that delights in being cruel to our characters which is really part of what makes the book so scary and upsetting.
The movie boasts some good performances (especially Shawn Ashmore who is game to turn up in various mid-range horror movies and be the most likeable character and probably die sometime before the end credits, ditto Joe Anderson.) And there are some very good and very hard-to-watch gore scenes here. The Ruins is a good movie but it’s not as good as it could be, and it’s not the least bit fun so it’s not a movie that you’re going to want to watch very often, in fact I’d venture that most people aren’t going to enjoy it at all but the movie’s cult following is deserved even if the book is better.
Watch, Toss, or Buy?
This isn’t gonna be for everybody, I say watch it first.