Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #429
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 4, 2008
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: United States, Australia
Box Office: $22,375,000
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Carter Smith
Producers: Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer, Chris Bender
Screenplay: Scott B. Smith
Based on The Ruins by Scott Smith
Special Effects: David Fletcher, Jason Baird
Visual Effects: Leo Baker, Matthew Gratzner, Gregory L. McMurry, Don Lee, Ken McGaugh, Michael Shand
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Score: Graeme Revell
Editing: Jeff Betancourt
Studios: DreamWorks Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Red Hour
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson, Sergio Calderón, Jesse Ramirez, Balder Moreno, Dimitri Baveas, Patricio Almeida Rodriguez, Mario Jurado, Luis Antonio Ramos, Walter Quispe
Suggested Audio Candy
 Pop Cap Games “Zuma Deluxe”
 Graeme Revell “Cell Clone”
I’ve never had particularly green fingers. For some, tending to their mulberry bush offers no end of enjoyment and satisfaction, but I’m the type of guy whose garden of choice would be concrete. Now, call me a psycho and I’ll run you a shower, but as far as I’m concerned the only worthwhile flowers are either the ones in the attic or the mean green mothers from outer space. I’d much rather watch ten foot Triffids spitting debilitating venom into the eyes of passers-by than tending to my own geraniums and just can’t see the appeal of gardening as a valid pastime. To anyone out there who get their kicks from pulling up weeds on a bi-daily basis, I apologize without reservation for trampling down your tulips. However, I just cannot see the appeal.
Based on source fiction from Scott Smith (A Simple Plan), Carter Smith’s first full-length outing, The Ruins, tells the story of a group of friends who take a nice, relaxing vacation to Mexico and find themselves caught up in the brambles. Couples Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone), and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are happily knocking back the tequila as they celebrate Jeff’s last few days of freedom before attending medical school, blissfully unaware of the danger heading in their direction. Then they meet German backpacker Mathias (Joe Anderson), whose own archaeologist girlfriend worryingly hasn’t returned from an Aztec dig site she is investigating with his brother. They unwittingly tag along with Mathias and his friend, Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas), as the pair lead them through dense jungle in search of the Mayan temple where they were last spotted, and soon realize that they may have seen their last fajita.
The Ruins calls to mind John Stockwell’s Turistas as the twenty-somethings first embark on their expedition but cannibalistic locals are nowhere to be seen once they set down their rucksacks atop the ominous pyramid. Perhaps the first sign that all is not kosher would be the tribe loitering at the foot of the construct, scattering salt. Indeed, their presence here has been duly noted and the paranoid tribe aren’t about to let them return from their siesta. However, resident nut jobs turn out to be the very least of their worries as the wildlife introduces itself intimately, inching in around them surreptitiously as they ponder their escape while their incapacitated guide appears to be becoming one with nature.
Mother nature herself provides a particularly cunning and vicious adversary, whittling down the numbers faster than you can say “don’t touch that meteor Jordy” and generally causing confusion and unrest amongst their ranks. However, any hopes that we are heading into The Descent territory are swiftly dashed as the realization sinks in that the sneaky approach is going to be prefered to rapidly unfurling blitzkrieg. In this respect, Cabin Fever appears closer to Smith’s motivation. This came as a shock for some audiences when the film enjoyed its brief theatrical run and many came away disappointed after it teasingly set things up for a real rumble in the jungle. A little readjustment is admittedly required as we never really get to the root of the ruinous plant. But this more ambiguous peril proves just as dubious for the sparring friends and The Ruins works rather well as straight out body horror.
To stand any chance of blooming, we are required to care for the collective and, while the associates in question are somewhat less odious than the cast of Eli Roth’s back scratching wonder, they’re hardly the Waltons either. All performances from the young and able cast are believable and Smith is patient with his set up, affording them the chance to open their petals some. Having said that, they bicker and bitch like a group of fifteenth-century fishwives and I’m just speaking of the guys here. The intensity provided by their fast crumbling group dynamic is ratcheted well by the director and none of the actors put a flip-flop wrong, whilst we still desperately attempt to fend off the apathy. Fear is evidently not the order of the day, given the shrubbery’s snail-paced front guard, thus Smith works instead on creeping dread and inevitability.
The threat posed by the lingering tribal landlords assists on keeping their coordinates insular while, one-by-one, the budding buddies receive all the air and water they require to blossom. This is where The Ruins replaces green fingers with the deep red variety. Enter makeshift amputation, excruciating cauterization, and general hedge trimming as the dwindling group endeavor to stop the bodily rot before placing second in the local flower show. Smith ladles on the grue and gross-out is never more than a pumpkin patch away as the term body horror is afforded a significant run out. The whole experience may be hurt by a lack of goose bumps first time out but, dig beneath the vines, and you will be reminded that this omnipresent hazard is still worthy of the cultivation.
It’s an intriguing concept for sure and The Ruins is never anything less than solid, if a tad unremarkable on primary introduction. However, for every Wolf Creek, its nice to know that the simple elements can also still have their say with regards to snuffing out over inquisitive vacationers. The true horror lies in placing yourself in their espadrilles; taking stock of the surroundings, while feeling those vines steadily tightening their grip on your senses. I would still rather perch atop this tyrannous temple than party on the raft from Creepshow 2 while an ominous oil slick fondles my girlfriend’s mammeries. But I also have no interest in returning to South America any time soon so, in that respect, I guess the seeds have been planted.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Self-mutilation is the name of the game with bolshy boulders and scalding skillets preferred to pruning shears and malfunctioning strimmers. We are talking the look away in disgust variety and the gruesome creations of David Fletcher and Jason Baird are blooming marvelous throughout. Call me a hominid and I’ll show you my bone, but I would still have double-dipped with Cerina Vincent once she shaved her legs and both Malone and Ramsey would still get it after showing me their new fangled bikini lines. 94 minutes of watching them prance around in their swimwear is enough for my garden to grow. If that leads to amputation then shake my stumps, I guess I have green fingers after all. Here, fetch them for me will you? They’re over there in the foliage. I still have to beat my high score at Zuma.
Read Cabin Fever: Patient Zero Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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