Four young adults - medical student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), his girlfriend Amy (Jena Malone), her best mate Stacy (Laura Ramsey) and her boyfriend Eric (Shawn Ashmore) - are approaching the end of their Mexican holiday.
Enter German tourist Matthias (Joe Anderson) at their hotel poolside. He mentions that his brother has gone on an "off the map" excursion with a female archaeologist, in search of the ancient ruins of a Mayan temple. The conversation ends with Matthias inviting the American quartet to join him and his friend Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas) there in the morning.
Following a drunken night on the beach (where Jeff retires early to bed and Stacy has to stop Amy from getting off with Matthias), the troupe reconvene and set off via taxi to the remote forest where Matthias knows his brother was headed.
They find the brother's jeep abandoned and fight their way through bushes to find the temple ruins. But within moments a horde of locals toting guns and bows appear. Unable to understand their native tongue, Jeff and co try to pacify the agitated locals. When Dimitri approaches them he's shot in the head and the rest of the group flee to the top of the temple. The locals remain at the bottom of the temple, seemingly ensuring the tourists cannot leave.
On top of the ruins, the group discover an abandoned dig - sleeping bags, a tent, etc - along with a rope lowering itself down into the dark heart of the temple. Upon hearing what sounds like his brother's mobile ringtone, Matthias volunteers to be eased down into the temple on the rope.
However, the rope snaps and Matthias falls. When Stacy is lowered to check on him she discovers he's broken his back and the boys set about making a "back board" to winch him back up.
With Matthias in a bad way, Stacy having severely cut her leg during her trip into the temple and darkness looming. Eric reasons that they should think about getting past the locals and making a run for it. But Jeff is adamant that they stay: Dimitri left a map at the hotel showing where they were heading - someone is sure to come looking for them in the morning. All they need to do is last the night.
Which they manage with surprisingly little upset. However, when the morning comes, Stacy and Amy venture back into the temple's cavernous opening in search of that mobile telephone - only to discover the noise is actually coming from something rather deadly …
THE RUINS is an above-average horror that takes the tired concept of American teens holidaying abroad and encountering terror, and gives it a fresh spin. This is largely thanks to the intelligent script of Scott B Smith (based on his own best-selling novel) and the top-notch performances of the young cast, relishing the fact that they're playing characters with more about them than your ordinary horror film fodder.
The stunning exterior locations and appropriately gorgeous cinematography aide the taut editing of Jeff Betancourt and assured direction of Carter Smith, assisting the film in retaining a quality that is at once polished in delivery and yet raw in emotional authenticity.
Making a horror film that throws a group of teens among killer plants has the potential to fall flat on its face, with audiences chortling in the aisles. THE RUINS does a grand job of overcoming this by preserving a grim tone throughout, building steadily through some righteously grisly set pieces and superbly mounted tension, towards a downbeat finale.
The FX are superb. Kudos to Jake Garber on this front, who's perfected his craft on the likes of PLANET TERROR, SIN CITY and CLOVERFIELD. In THE RUINS we get a solid mix of prosthetic gore and CQI deadly vines that gel together extremely well.
It also helps that unlike THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS or THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, these plants do not eat people - that would be laughable to contemporary audiences. Rather, they burrow beneath the skin, having crept in through wounds while their victims rest. The way in which these scenes are executed are nauseatingly convincing, as is the psychological torment it elicits in those affected. This is where the real horror stems from.
All of which leads to a couple of stand-out gore spectacles that involve the amputation of infected legs and one character repeatedly hacking at themselves with a knife, desperate to cut the vines out of their body. It gets gruesome.
The picture quality on this uncut UK disc is superlative. Images are ultra-sharp with clean contrast and well-balanced colour schemes. Skin texture is accurate while the clarity of detail is superb. It's an outstanding anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation.
Likewise the English 5.1 audio provides a very solid experience, boosting the jumpy moments with well-rendered bass. Optional subtitles are available on the main feature in English, Dutch and English Hard-of-Hearing.
A nice animated main menu includes a static scene-selection menu allowing access to THE RUINS via 11 chapters.
A host of worthy bonus features kick off with an audio commentary track from director Smith and Betancourt.
A tad slow, but this is an easy listen with some good background information to be gleamed from the enthusiastic filmmakers. Betancourt effectively acts as interviewer, more interested in what Smith has to offer than putting his own opinions forward. In a nice touch not seen often enough, the commentary track comes with optional English subtitles.
Then there's the short but informative 14-minute Making Of featurette offering a good mix of on-set and post-production interviews with all principal cast and crew members. Even executive producer Ben Stiller (yes, that one) turns up to profess his love of horror films. Some decent behind-the-scenes footage and the odd film clip help flesh out the running time.
"Creeping Death" is 15 minutes culled from the same interview sessions, this time focussing more on the FX that brought the vines to life.
"Building the Ruins" is the final instalment of what is essentially a single featurette split into three segments. Again, it's the same interview sessions (different comments though) with Smith and - in particular - producer Stuart Cornfield being the most vocal on the subject of the production design.
All three featurettes are presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 with optional English or Dutch subtitles.
Four deleted scenes follow, which can be watched individually or as a 10-minute whole by selecting the "Play All" option. These include an alternate ending that is perhaps too obvious. The one used in the final cut is similar but better. These scenes come equipped with optional commentary from Smith and Betancourt.
Finally there's a 1-minute theatrical trailer. Also, the disc is defaulted to open with a trailer for EAGLE EYE.
THE RUINS should have been cheesy, it should by rights have been daft and more than a little bit shitty. But it's not. Benefiting from an intelligent screenplay and above-par performances, not to mention some truly eye-opening gore scenes, it's one of the better US horror films of this decade.
Okay, it peters out and doesn't really know where to go after the first hour, but give it a go - it just falls short of being tree-mendous (sorry).
While not a classic, it would be a shame to see THE RUINS get overlooked.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|