Movie News & Reviews

Man-eating vines only thing memorable in "Ruins"

I'm getting tired of all these movies that aren't good enough to watchagain but not bad enough to hate again.

I'd give my roommate's right arm to see something so great it makes mehide in the theater under an empty popcorn tub to see the next showingor so awful it makes me drive straight home and watch every episode ofFuturama 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 theorynothing can be good if it's got "Holocaust" in the title (just look atthe real one). I was holding out some hope for The Ruins--it'swritten by the same guy who did A Simple Plan, which Sam Raimiturned into a pretty kickass film--but it looks like we may be trappedin this theatrical universe where the alphabet's only two letters long(B- through C) until next month, when Robert Downey, Jr. fights crimeas a giant mechanical man.

In The Ruins, four American students vacationing in Mexico meeta guy whose brother is out exploring a lost Mayan pyramid. Bored withdrinking on beaches, they decide to go check it out.

Men with bows and guns emerge from the jungle the minute the studentsget there, killing one of their friends and forcing the rest to fleeup the vine-covered pyramid. The locals won't climb or even touch theruins, but they set up camp around it and won't let the studentsleave, either.

This antisocial behavior starts to look a lot more reasonable once oneof the girls descends into the ruins and learns just how bad they'vegot it: not only are they trapped on the pyramid, but the vinescovering 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 thetime the man-eating plants start acting up, they're just one morereason the students are royally boned. Sure, once or twice Iremembered what I was seeing and thought "Killer vines, huh? If onlythey could be killed by fire, machetes, Roundup, or just pulling themout of the ground," but mostly, I bought the fact these kids werebeing taken down by crawling piles of leaves.

Cheers for that, as well as the steady suspense director Carter Smithbuilds up. Jeers to the tissue-thin characterization. By the end ofThe Ruins, I knew Jonathan Tucker was going to med school,which came in handy during those ultra-gruesome scenes when he had toamputate someone's legs with a hunting knife or slice freaky vines outof someone's stomach, but as for the rest of them, they weren't muchmore than walking sacks of fertilizer. Does rooting for the MeanGreen Machine over my fellow humans make me a bad person? Well, thenmaybe they should have been more charming or unique than the big fatmass of faceless vegetation.

The Ruins' slow-burn sensibility eventually ends up workingagainst it, too. Just when I thought things were really starting tokick ass, it turned out the movie was ending in a fizzly anticlimaxthat left all the big questions dangling. Questions such as So theworld's doomed, then? and Huh? Unless it's my mail-order bride, Idon't need things wrapped up in a neat little package (next time: airholes), but I do appreciate an ending with a little more reason behindit than most everyone's dead and it's hit the 90-minute mark so whythe hell not.

For a movie about screeching, man-eating ivy, The Ruins isn'thalf bad. It knows how to build dread and how to use gore to drivehome the group's fight for survival. But it's got no idea how to maketheir long struggle pay off or how to evoke any emotion for itsplayers beyond a mild "sucks to be them." Still, I might Netflix itwhen it comes out on video. By then I'll surely have forgotteneverything about it but the vines.

Grade: C+