Starring: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore
Directed by: Carter Smith (debut)
Written by: Scott B. Smith (“A Simple Plan”)
When Academy Award-nominated writers start popping out horror scripts, things can get interesting.
That’s what screenwriter Scott B. Smith (“A Simple Plan”) has done with the film “The Ruins,” based on his novel of the same name. Like in “Plan,” Smith keeps viewers’ nerves on edge, and this time adds gallons of blood to the mix to make for a surprisingly shocking film.
While vacationing in Mexico, a group of four friends, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (Shawn Ashmore), and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), are invited to go on a last-minute journey with a German tourist named Mathias (Joe Anderson) and his friend Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas). Their destination: an archaeology dig at an ancient Mayan temple that just so happens not to be on any of the local maps (same with the caves in 2005’s “The Descent”).
Still, the foursome wants an adventure before their trip is over and would rather take a little risk instead of sun-burning by the hotel pool or going back to the beach for the millionth time. Soon it’s Mayan temple or bust for the group of six as they hop on a yellow pick-up taxi into the jungles of Mexico to search for a historic artifact that may or may not even exist.
When they find the temple, they are immediately ambushed by an aggressive group of Mayan natives who are armed with guns and a bow-and-arrow. Before anyone can react, Dimitri is brutally killed and the rest of the teens are forced up the steps to the top of the temple.
Soon, the youngsters realize that the natives are not going to let them off the top. Why? Because they all have come in contact with the plant life growing out of the shrine and it seems the Mayans are deathly afraid of what could happen if anyone gets too close to the shrubbery. The kids find out soon enough when the vines, leaves, and voice-mimicking pink flowers begin to be drawn to the flesh wounds of the boys and girls. Like Audrey II of “Little Shop of Horrors,” these plants want to feast on blood and they want it now.
If he decides to stick with the genre, add director Carter Smith to the designated “Splat Pack” made up of filmmakers like Eli Roth, Neil Marshall, and Alexandre Aja. “The Ruins” is horrifically gory, which ties in well with the hopelessness, terror, and mind-numbing confusion all the teens must be experiencing trapped atop where no one can find them.
When the squirming and flinching is over there not much left to the “Ruins” story, but some lost messages and unanswered questions. Still, the traumatic scenes of fear are effective for the genre and with most of the characters spending their time in utter shock, there’s not much horror-movie dialogue to ruin the amputations, self-mutilation, and deaths-by-weeds.