I'm getting tired of all these movies that aren't good enough to watch again but not bad enough to hate again.
I'd give my roommate's right arm to see something so great it makes me hide in the theater under an empty popcorn tub to see the next showing or so awful it makes me drive straight home and watch every episode of Futurama to forget its cinematic crime against God. Yes, there's a 60-percent chance I'm doing that even as you read this, but that's just your garden-variety "haven't showered or left the house in twelve days and I'm not about to start now," not because I was forced into it by some Batman of terrible movies.
Instead, I'm left to get my interesting movie fix through Netflix, watching movies like Cannibal Holocaust and working on a theory nothing can be good if it's got "Holocaust" in the title (just look at the real one). I was holding out some hope for The Ruins--it's written by the same guy who did A Simple Plan, which Sam Raimi turned into a pretty kickass film--but it looks like we may be trapped in this theatrical universe where the alphabet's only two letters long (B- through C) until next month, when Robert Downey, Jr. fights crime as a giant mechanical man.
In The Ruins, four American students vacationing in Mexico meet a guy whose brother is out exploring a lost Mayan pyramid. Bored with drinking on beaches, they decide to go check it out.
Men with bows and guns emerge from the jungle the minute the students get there, killing one of their friends and forcing the rest to flee up the vine-covered pyramid. The locals won't climb or even touch the ruins, but they set up camp around it and won't let the students leave, either.
This antisocial behavior starts to look a lot more reasonable once one of the girls descends into the ruins and learns just how bad they've got it: not only are they trapped on the pyramid, but the vines covering it are a carnivorous, motile mass hungry for their blood.
This is a lot less ridiculous than it sounds. Writer Scott B. Smith, adapting his own book, cranks up the horror so gradually that by the time the man-eating plants start acting up, they're just one more reason the students are royally boned. Sure, once or twice I remembered what I was seeing and thought "Killer vines, huh? If only they could be killed by fire, machetes, Roundup, or just pulling them out of the ground," but mostly, I bought the fact these kids were being taken down by crawling piles of leaves.
Cheers for that, as well as the steady suspense director Carter Smith builds up. Jeers to the tissue-thin characterization. By the end of The Ruins, I knew Jonathan Tucker was going to med school, which came in handy during those ultra-gruesome scenes when he had to amputate someone's legs with a hunting knife or slice freaky vines out of someone's stomach, but as for the rest of them, they weren't much more than walking sacks of fertilizer. Does rooting for the Mean Green Machine over my fellow humans make me a bad person? Well, then maybe they should have been more charming or unique than the big fat mass of faceless vegetation.
The Ruins' slow-burn sensibility eventually ends up working against it, too. Just when I thought things were really starting to kick ass, it turned out the movie was ending in a fizzly anticlimax that left all the big questions dangling. Questions such as So the world's doomed, then? and Huh? Unless it's my mail-order bride, I don't need things wrapped up in a neat little package (next time: air holes), but I do appreciate an ending with a little more reason behind it than most everyone's dead and it's hit the 90-minute mark so why the hell not.
For a movie about screeching, man-eating ivy, The Ruins isn't half bad. It knows how to build dread and how to use gore to drive home the group's fight for survival. But it's got no idea how to make their long struggle pay off or how to evoke any emotion for its players beyond a mild "sucks to be them." Still, I might Netflix it when it comes out on video. By then I'll surely have forgotten everything about it but the vines.