Herschell Gordon Lewis directed Little Shop of Horrors,
The Ruins would likely be
the end product. A skin-crawlingly diabolical horror film, The Ruins is a
sobering reminder that the screen can still generate anxiety on a massive
scale when it meets material that takes few prisoners.
On vacation in Mexico, four college students (Shawn
Ashmore, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, and Jonathan Tucker) meet a German
tourist (Joe Anderson) looking to break away from the grind of perfect
beaches and bottomless margaritas. Their adventure destination is a lost
Mayan temple located in the middle of a dense jungle, and once arrived,
the group tragically learns they are not welcome by the vicious locals.
Trapped on top of the temple, the students quickly grasp they are not
alone, finding the flowers and vines that surround them have a taste for
blood. Toying with the group, the ferocious flora waits patiently as
injury and madness soon settles in, leaving the hapless youngsters with no
means of escape.
Adapted by Scott Smith (A Simple Plan) from his
own novel, The Ruins is governed by one rule: razor-sharp
simplicity. There's no undercurrent of absurd social commentary, no
extraneous subplots vying for screen time; The Ruins is a
straightforward exercise in endurance and disturbing imagery. Not having
personally experienced the novel, I didn't sense any gaps in the
storytelling, which is a credit to Smith, who overhauled his original plot
to streamline the agony. It's a triumphant piece of scripting, securing
the tension to the front burners at all times and staging sequences not
for their jump-scare potential, but for more gut-wrenching results that
will surely leave weak-kneed home viewers sprinting to eject the DVD.
Director Carter Smith (Bugcrush) is game to go
where Smith leads and he rarely breaks the film's constant haze of dread.
Ruins dabbles in psychological torment, yet the heart of this beast lies
in old-fashioned displays of gore, with the characters digging around in
their own bodies with knives in a pathetic attempt to keep the vines
literally out of their system. Certainly this isn't high art, but Ruins is
near-perfect at manipulating its audience, emphasizing physical threat and
consequence, with a profound admiration for armrest-squeezing bodily harm
on a level few recent horror productions would dare explore.
The acting by the young leads is better than expected,
especially the work committed to the screen here by Laura Ramsey, who is
the only member of the cast to reach the next level of despair as the
vines attempt to find a warm home under her skin. Smith wisely keeps the
actorly hysterics to a minimum, preferring visual communication of
suffering that's incredibly more effective riling up the audience than bad
actors allowed free reign to act badly.
DISC: The Ruins is offered in an "Unrated" edition, which adds
a few snippets of character development and extra, explicit gore. There's
also a new ending, which predictably steamrolls over the film's original
optimistic conclusion. If possible, stick with the theatrical cut for any
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) image is
a crisp, clean, and startling experience to behold. The film's
considerable black levels are maintained wonderfully, and color pops
extraordinarily. Sweaty detail is pronounced throughout.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix keeps the thrills alive with
heavy use of surrounds, dragging the viewer into the heart of
claustrophobic botanical terror. Dialogue and scoring selections are
English, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
Extras include an audio commentary with director Carter
Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt, a track that's kept alive by
Betancourt's relentless questioning, which opens up the director to chat
more deeply about his picture.
- Author Scott Smith was generous and encouraging with
the alterations to his original novel.
- This Mexican adventure was actually shot in
- A majority of the film was photographed with natural
- The duo point out some interesting narrative
reconstruction that occurred during the editorial process.
- The test screening process included use of a hidden
camera to accurately note the film's top scares.
Smith and Betancourt really deliver the info, only
dropping out when the new footage arrives. It becomes clear the filmmakers
didn't know of any unrated version by the end of the commentary,
discussing the "hopeful" ending that isn't there anymore.
"Making 'The Ruins'" (14:23) is a banal EPK holdover,
interviewing cast and crew (even producer Ben Stiller) on the making of
the picture. The film is held up in the best possible light to a
nauseating degree, but there's a wealth of appealing behind-the-scenes
footage to take in.
"Creeping Death" (15:04) discusses the challenge of
making plants scary. Key crew members are brought in to chat about the
film's villains, showing viewers how the green menace was constructed,
executed, and sweetened with CGI.
"Building the Ruins" (6:18) sits down with production
designer Grant Major to explore how the sets were built. This is a
superbly detailed look on how the central location was created, employing
more digital glue than expected to make it all come together seamlessly.
"Deleted Scenes" (11:55) showcases a rainstorm, a moment
with alcohol, a longer hold on despair, a more extensive, hokey alternate
ending (partially used on the unrated cut), and the film's original
Finally, a Theatrical Trailer for The Ruins has
been included on this DVD.
WORTH IT? It could be the steady diet of
numbskull horror offerings lately, but I was with Ruins for the entire
ride, delighting in the merciless direction and fantastical botanical
twists with eyes wide open. It's one of those strap-in-and-ride-it-out
experiences that are all too rare; forgoing elaborate strands of
exposition to settle on more direct lunges of terror. It's a marvelous
- Brian Orndorf