In 1998, we were blessed with A SIMPLE PLAN, a gripping story of greed and its natural ability to destroy anything and everyone, adapted for the screen from his own novel by Scott B. Smith. In 2008, we have another such case of self-adaptation in THE RUINS, a movie that, though taut and horrifying at several points, carries almost no emotional weight, and even less insight. Now this isn't an entirely bad thing, as THE RUINS sets out mostly to terrify its audience, which it certainly accomplishes. My problems is with the characters, only one of which I found genuine.
The movie opens, like most others of this sort, with some teenagers on vacation in an exotic location - Mexico - and quickly begins picking them off one by one. Oddly enough, the one character I found myself liking and even rooting for was the obligatory "hot blonde," Stacy, mainly because she doesn't turn out to be quite so dumb as the others, and because she is the most believable in her actions as the story progresses. Played by Laura Ramsey, who I've only vaguely known of from other films like VENOM and THE CONVENENT, Stacy is a realist, understanding the harrowing events going on moreso than any of the others. She knows early on they're probably going to die, and it's probably not going to be pretty.
Sadly, the other characters suffer from being totally unlikeable and completely dense. Not that they aren't presented realistically - they are, and they behave in perfect logic with how they are written as personality types, part of what I liked about the film - but they are simply types of people I tend to ignore and not care for.
The plot concerns these teens finding their way to an archaeological dig for some Mayan ruins that aren't on any maps. Once there, they are chased to the top and not allowed to leave by some villagers - none of whom speak Spanish. Soon, they find that the ruins are home to an ancient evil, a predatory vine that works its way into people, mentally and physically, until it can claim them for itself.
I know this sounds more than a bit hokey, and it is very sci-fi oriented, but this premise is nonetheless employed to very horrifying ends. The scene when the two girls are in the temple searching for a cell phone they hear ringing in its depths is among the best constructed scenes in any horror film, and like the rest of the movie, plays out logically and realistically - the movie's strongest point by far.
Despite my personal disliking of some of the characters, they do behave like a person of their ilk would be expected in such a situation. And as far as the killer plant goes, even the most outrageous things are grounded - albeit far removed - in actual botany. When things play out to their foregone conclusion (gory deaths, a "final girl") it doesn't ever feel unsatisfying as in so many other recent horror films. That in and of itself is a small achievement.
All in all, I liked THE RUINS far more than I disliked it. But really, who doesn't like a gory killer plant movie? And one that doesn't completely suck, to boot...