I had definitely fallen victim to the Netflix malaise, where there’s aways something to watch, even if nothing I’m particularly excited about, and even the things I want to see get devalued by always just being there and available. In my new neighborhood in Chicago, there is an old video store, and I pretty much ignored it until I heard that it is considered quite a good video store, and it was a revelation: Wait a minute, I could go there and get a movie I actually WANT to watch! Which is a feeling I had almost forgotten about, and was quite welcome to re-experience.
Turns out, the movie I WANTED to watch was The Ruins.
This was from the brief burst of hateful-tourists-in-peril movies that came out after Hostel, and I saw it when it was in theaters and was surprised to quite like it. It is quite a nasty piece of work, with truly hateful characters that you really want to see get it, and an unusual antagonist: killer plants! But really creepy killer plants, not killer plants in an M. Night Shyamalan-type way.
We open with a woman in a dark pit screaming for help. She’s just our opening victim. Then we meet our dumb college student protagonists, on vacation at a resort in Mexico. There’s blonde Stacy and her blond boyfriend Eric, and uptight med student Jeff and his girlfriend, the absolutely insufferable Amy. If you have ever hated that smarmy, know-it-all, ultra-sheltered yet arrogant liberal arts college girl with annoying glasses, who feels entitled to lecture you on what you should do and how you behave what you should say [favorite quote: “It’s not funny!’], and knows all of this because she listens to NPR, yet at the same time is ensconced in an upper-class comfort and entitlement that ensures she never REALLY had to suffer, this is Amy. Eric is just as bad in his own way, but the movie really singles Amy out as far and away the most annoying, and the script really fucking hates her. But that’s the pleasure here: WE can see that these people are awful, and that WE would never act like that, and boy is it fun to watch those ignorant, sheltered douchebags get what they deserve—and be too dumb to know how to deal with it.
The first evidence is in learning that the tourists [except for Jeff] haven’t wanted to visit any ancient temples, they just want to go to “the beach, the hotel, the beach, the hotel” and drink. They meet German Mathias, whose girlfriend is an archaeologist, and who offers to show them an off-the-map temple, which he describes as “VIP.” Our idiot tourists don’t want to see just any temple that anyone can see, but they ARE interested in one that is somehow “exclusive.” Amy is wasted, and tries to make out with Mathias the second Jeff leaves. Off course, Jeff is so dull, you can see why she’d want some excitement on her vacation.
They take a bus to a small town. Amy, who, like all yuppie idiots who don’t want to take up an art form that might require study and actual, dreary practice, fancies herself a photographer. She takes pics of the local kids without asking permission, as though they are objects. They get a taxi to a spot near their temple, where there is an abandoned Jeep [they take the key]. Amy finds out that there is a bit of a hike to the ancient temple, and reasonably asks how they’re going to get a cab back. “It’s not funny,” she says, “It’s like a 20-mile hike and I’m wearing flip-flops!” Well, what IS funny is that you thought flip-flops were in any way appropriate for even mild jungle walking and exploring an ancient temple. By the way, there is one additional guy who is there to, you know, be killed.
Eventually they reach the temple. An old man comes out to warn them, but of course, he’s speaking Spanish, and none of them know a word of it. So Jeff holds out a $20 bill. And good old Amy takes a photograph while everyone is yelling and screaming. She’s going to DOCUMENT this! She has also backed into the foliage that covers the temple. Now there are a number of men with guns screaming at them, and the additional guy is protesting when—sudden arrow in the chest! Then he is shot square in the head. Told you he was here to be killed! The rest of the tourists run up to the top of the temple, and their fate is sealed. This time I noticed from the start that the entire temple is covered in the distinctive vine we’ll come to know and love.
SPOILERS > > >
Up top, they find Mathias’ girlfriend’s tent, and a dead body to boot. They hear the girlfriend’s cellphone down in the temple, so Mathias descends on the rickety whinch-thing, and whoops, he falls. Jeff tells the women that one of them has to go down, and Amy shrieks “Why US? Why can’t one of YOU go?” Nice one, Amy! Just OPENLY suggest that someone else die instead of you—LOVE IT. The logic is that the men have the upper body strength to pull them back up. Stacy agrees to go down, winning a nice hug from Amy in the process. Thanks a lot, Stace! The rope runs out before Stacy hits the bottom, and she has to jump, hurting her leg in the process. Mathias appears to be completely paralyzed, and can only move his eyes. Well, time for Amy to descend into the pit! No avoiding it now!
Well, not this Amy. She runs through all her excuses [“we have to wait for help!”] and then takes off down the temple, rather than go into that pit. This gives rise to some classic Amy [before she becomes less hateful for the rest of the film], as she approaches the men guarding the temple with guns and tries to whip her emotions in check enough to sob through “Someone’s… been… hurt,” expecting that the guys will leap to help her like all the moms would at any eight-year-old’s backyard birthday party if someone had an oopsie. Amazingly, they don’t. And guess what else? They don’t speak English, something that our poor Amy seems to have trouble fully conceptualizing. Maybe if she REALLY MEANS IT they’ll understand. When they don’t, she throws some weed out in a rage, which hits a young boy. The guys start pointing guns at the child, and you’re like “No,” but they keep pointing and screaming, and you’re like “They wouldn’t” and then THEY DO! They shoot the boy right in the head. This horrifies our precious Amy, despite the fact that it is basically her fault that the kid got it. It would have been an interesting twist if the kid had been forced to climb the temple with them. Anyway, Amy climbs back up.
So they make a stretcher for Mathias and Amy is going to ride it down. Meanwhile, Stacy has looked around, and we’ve seen a good, creepy sight of the weed starting to skitter away like crabs, in a way where you wonder if you actually saw it. Amy gets down, and they realize that Mathias’ back is broken, yet they’re going to have to lift him up onto the stretcher! It ain’t pretty, but I guess it helped, because he can move his whole head once he’s up top, where he could only move his eyes down below. Then, well, did I tell you that my DVD is the unrated edition? I was reminded of this when Stacy suddenly gives Eric a reach-around while Amy is right there in the tent! I would have remembered THAT if I’d seen it in the theater!
Now, it is halfway through the movie, and if you’ve read your screenwriting manuals, you know that right about now is when our characters are supposed to realize that it’s the plants that is doing this to them. Sure enough, Stacy wakes up to find one of them grown deeply into her wound. Mathias’ legs are completely eaten away by the vines. Soon the ladies’ have to go back down into the bit and look for the cell phone, which they hear ringing. They have to go into a small tunnel, lined with vines, which opens into a larger room, also completely covered in vines. The movie doesn’t explain how these things grow in total darkness, but I guess they live on blood, so… Anyway, here comes an interesting aspect of the movie. Amy realizes that the flowers of the plants can imitate sound, and the plant is imitating the phone. They also find Mathias’ girlfriend, as a corpse, and her broken cell phone. Then the plants start getting all ornery, and the walls literally come alive and start closing in on them! Which is good, it seems like the plants are in a frenzy for blood! The only thing is… there’s no way the women would escape from this, especially going through the tiny tunnel, but… we have the rest of the movie to get through, and thus they live.
So now Jeff is pushing his “stay here and wait for help,” agenda, while everyone else is on the “make a break for it and try to get help” platform. Jeff’s reasoning is that “Four Americans on a vacations just don’t disappear,” which may be his asshole tourist highlight. He says that they have to cut Mathias’ legs off, because of infection, and while everyone thinks this is crazy, they’re afraid to mention that he’s on the brink of death anyway. Jeff tells them that Mathias has no feeling in his legs, but he obviously does, as he is screaming horribly throughout the whole—extremely gory—sequence. This causes Amy to come out of her tent on a mission to lecture and chastise, her two favorite things, which she does, including the highlight: “This is SO not okay!” Then, in a nice little touch, the vines make off with the severed limbs!
By the way—WHAT are the plants waiting for? They could snatch our characters any time, but they’re very respectful of the screenwriters' need to make the torment last. Soon Stacy discovers that she has living vines writhing like worms underneath her skin, a fact she isn’t real thrilled about. They do a little surgery by penknife and it’s a bit gory. There’s a good moment when everyone sees a vine moving underneath Stacy’s forehead, but no one wants to tell her. Anyway, I’m not sure we really need to recap it all. Things don’t end well. Jeff has a good asshole moment when he chastises the Mexicans that they let one of them die and “don’t even know her name,” as though there’s any reason in the world that they should know their names.
< < < SPOILERS END
Overall, I still like it. I appreciate that it’s just so nasty, in terms of the Mexicans holding them up on that pyramid and not showing any mercy. I also appreciate that the characters are SO venal without any redeeming qualities. You rent this movie to hate on idiot American tourists, and you get some really hateful idiot Americans who never turn good. The unrated disc has a new ending and an alternate ending, both of which follow the characters’ short-sightedness and self-centeredness to its logical extreme [only the theatrical ending wimps out]. I also appreciate that it’s just such an unusual situation and such an unusual antagonist… so yeah, a nice change of pace and full of black humor for those who hate entitled white yuppies! In fact, the whole movie just hates on entitled yuppies in the most delightful way, it can just really put you in a good mood.
If you hate sheltered, onboxious white yuppies!