Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don't Feed the Plants

Few things make me happier than discovering a 21st century horror film made well (okay, watching a 1980 cannibalistic martial arts extravaganza is more exciting, but still). The Ruins, a 2008 adaptation of Scott B Smith’s novel, is a wonderful surprise. Dubbed The Killer Plant Movie by the not-so-many that saw it, The Ruins can be classified on the upper tier of the sub-sub genre of postcard pretty tourist horror, sparked by the uneven Hostel and continued with the empty glossiness of films like Turistas.

Quick Plot: Four young Americans (initially appearing to be escapees from an American Eagle catalogue shoot) befriend a strapping German named Mathais (Joe Anderson, the hammer-wielding Max from Across the Universe) while vacationing in Mexico. After a rowdy and raunchy night of drinking, the quintet--accompanied by a token Greek whose very quietness spells expendability--decide to take an excursion to Mayan ruins where Mathias’ brother has been exploring on an archeological dig.

It’s not too long before Very Bad Things begin to happen, not the least of which includes being surrounded by gun-and-arrow-toting, Quechuan-speaking locals. A surprising and grisly first kill drives the cast up an Apocalypto-esque temple while the no nonsense Mayans build a shanty town to keep the young folks terrified and trapped.

As the poster art shows, there is indeed vicious vinery to be found upon that hill, including bratty little flowers that are all too happy to mock you when you’re down. What makes The Ruins such a powerful film, however, is that the greenery is only the starting seed of the terror. Sure, it sets up our young and beautiful cast for a few genuine supernatural (or maybe superorganic) scares, but the real horror comes from watching these friends and lovers caught in a hellish and inescapable situation. Yes, a literal thorn in your side sucks, but it’s the murderous locals, limited water supply, poor cell phone service, and growing suspicions amongst friends that truly rustle the sheltered lives of our vacationers.

High Points
Despite the overprettiness of the cast, the roles are not nearly as stereotypical as one would expect from this kind of a film; even though she’s blonde and briefly naked, Laura Ramsey’s Stacy is not a token slutty bombshell. Likewise, even though she’s brunette and fully clothed, Jena Malone’s Amy is far from the spunky and sweet heroine we’d expect her to be

It’s always refreshing to see sunny days filled with horrors

Low Points
Maybe it’s intentional, but the obnoxious Americanness of the beginning feels like well-worn territory

A few moments of plant attacks (particularly involving a lazily animated corpse) remind us why the special effects are not the highlights

Lessons Learned
Evil flowers are not your friends, but they can be powerful weapons*

Common sense dictates not to wear flip flops on a nature hike

Always include a med student when planning a couples’ getaway

When someone is holding a knife, it's not very wise to approach him/her from behind

The DVD is fairly extra heavy and includes a director commentary (often my make/break to purchase feature), so if you catch a well-priced copy, I say buy. The Ruins is definitely worth a watch. I don’t want to overpraise it by calling it a classic; it’s not. But for people that like to see modern horror made well, this is a refreshing example. Despite a seemingly standard setup, the story doesn’t go where you expect it to. And for those that imagine a killer plant movie sounds less appealing than a middle school production of Little Shop of Horrors, let me reassure you that even the most macabre of drama teachers wouldn’t come close to staging the amputation scene you get here.

*MILD SPOILER: While I think the characters generally made some fairly intelligent plans, they did completely miss the one opportunity they had for escape: throwing the plants at their Mayan captors. If nothing else, doing so may have created a chaotic firing party amongst the Mayans, thus giving the kids some time to make a break for the jeep. Perhaps I’m just a tad spoiled from having recently watched the wonderful Rutger Hauer-headed Flesh + Blood, where the catapulting of plague-ridden dog meat figures into a brilliant climax.


  1. I thought this movie was okay, too. Definitely was better than I expected it to be.

  2. I think there was just so much potential for the film to go wrong. Take something like Turistas, which had a nice setup and fantastic location, but just unrolled so clumsily that I was left with absolutely nothing. The Ruins, to me, was much deeper and darker than the standard American studio horror, particularly of 2007/8.

  3. I was bummed with this film - you totally HAVE to read the book. It is 1000 times darker, weirder and more engrossing than the film.

    I dig your blog though!!

  4. Thanks Evol Kween. The book is slowly making its way to my library, so I'll definitely be back with a second look.

  5. Hi. On the very bottom of this page I see a picture of a burning doll. Do you know what movie this is from? I'm not sure if this is a picture from the movie I'm thinking of. In about 1999 I saw a movie about a killer doll. The main character, a boy, somehow aquires a doll. All I remember is that there was a green light that shone every time the doll attacked (or at least when it attacked the main character's sister). The doll also lept out of a locker at school and attacked the main character's teacher, and when the main character's mother was standing on a chair changing a lightbulb, the doll pulled the chair out from under her. In the end, the main character has to find personal items of all the victims and (I think) set them on fire. I know that they burn the doll in the end. However I remember a scene after this featuring the charred doll back from "the dead" with some sort of master. If you know anything about this, please e-mail me at I'd appreciate your help; I've been trying to figure out this movie's name for a long time.

  6. It doesn't ring a bell, but it sounds absolutely incredible. I'm looking into it. Was it in English?