Monday, April 28, 2008

The Ruins (2008)

Or, "My friends went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy carnivorous plant infection!" It's another tourist-terror movie, but this time instead of the sadistic Europeans of the Hostel movies or the organ-harvesters of Turistas it's a Mayan temple infested with hungry plants, and a group of young American tourists, led by Jena Malone and Jonathan Tucker, stumble into it, only to have the locals box them in, shooting anyone who tries to get away in order to stop the spread of the infection. Assuming that the plant doesn't spread via spores or seeds, it raises the question: why not a fence?

It's a pretty pulpy, straight-forward premise (from the novel by Scott Smith) that leads to a movie that works on a basic, 'what kind of crap is going to happen to happen to these people next?' level, with little space needed for elaboration or explanations. And the movie, directed by Carter Smith, isn't bad, but the filmmakers forgot one crucial element: they forgot to make the movie actually about anything.

Now I'm not asking that the movie layer on an unwanted coat of metaphor or allegory when it works reasonably well as a straight-forward narrative, but even Eli Roth was smart enough to work in a critique of global capitalism into his movies. If you're making a movie about a killer plant infesting a Mayan temple that can mimic the human voice and strip flesh off bones, you need to either add in some thematic resonances, or you need to make it the best, craziest, most suspenseful killer plant movie ever made (I'm calling you out, Day of the Triffids). And unfortunately, The Ruins doesn't do either of those two things and so it floats, unfixed in a larger artistic framework, and only moderately compelling as a roller-coaster ride. Even though there's a fair amount of suspense and the cast is game, it's horror-movie junk food - okay in the moment, totally forgettable afterwards.


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