These days our cheap-o single weekend wonder horror films are all preoccupied with one basic message: Americans are dumb. And arrogant. And white. Really, really white. Which makes it all the more satisfying when they run amok in brown countries and get their pretty white bodies torn apart by the mechanisms of the dirty oppressed. The Ruins is no different, except the monster isn’t animal. It’s a vengeful vegetable hungering for pale flesh. Our villain here is a sentient vine that looks like a potted plant crossed with poison ivy and studded with singing roses.
It sounds ridiculous and it is, with an indelible aura of B-movie brand cheesiness. However, have any corn-fed American protagonists deserved more the evil ministrations of a plant than The Ruins’ completely unlikable bunch of blondies? Shallow cuties Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacey (Laura Ramsey), and their marginally more sensitive boyfriends (Jonathan Tucker and Shawn Ashmore), are having a great time relaxing poolside on their Mexican holiday when a German backpacker Mathias (Joe Anderson) shows up with a map to a secret archeological dig. It takes some convincing, but before long the happy gang are traipsing through the jungle in flip flops, ignoring the omen-like presence of spooky Mayan children, abandoned cars, and hesitant taxi drivers. Oh, those nutty Americans!
The action really begins when the group reaches the fabled ruin and are subsequently driven up its vine-covered steps by a mob of angry Mayans with guns and arrows. Trapped at the top and still utterly clueless, they hear the chiming of a working cell phone coming from a deep cavern in the step pyramid’s center. A naive quest for the phone sets off a chain of events that cause the devolution of the happy gang into a bunch of frightened kids in various states of mental and physical breakdown, which is when The Ruins stops being pleasingly eerie and becomes flat out gross.
The film is relentlessly bloody and not for the squeamish. There is nearly every sort of torturous rending of the human body imaginable: broken bones, gaping wounds, splattered brains, self-mutilation. I would describe it in further detail but I spent the more barbaric moments cringing behind my notepad like a little girl.
Though the evil plant does its part, much of the worst gore to be found here is inflicted by kids on themselves, a detail that I suppose was meant to signify a physical representation of the damage Americans have done to their own country with pride and nationalism. The fact that this evil plant is growing in Mexico and snaking its way into American tourists is an interesting contrivance, but it becomes irrelevant in the absolute sea of blood and guts and bits of bone found here. Plus the tourists are so obnoxious, who cares if they die?
It’s not giving anything away to say that there is a lot of death in this film, which tells you how predictable this angle on the slasher film has become. In the end, The Ruins is just sickening, not scary. Boo.