(2008) dir. Carter Smith
Last summer, at the airport on my way to a brief vacation in Los Cabos, I espied the book The Ruins by Scott B. Smith, which was a horror novel set in the Yucatán peninsula, a part of Mexico that I had previously visited. Even though I wasn’t headed to the Mayan part of Mexico, this seemed like fortuitous discovery, so I picked it up.
My reaction to reading it was simple: it’s a clever conceit and horror story, one that just seems like a movie waiting to happen. Writer Scott B. Smith may well have been planning this all along. His previous novel, A Simple Plan, was made into a moderately successful film by Sam Raimi in 1998 with Smith writing the script himself. And with this book, begging to be translated to film, Smith again got the opportunity to write to screenplay.
But unlike A Simple Plan, which I thought of as a sort of poor man’s Fargo (1996), crime drama set against a lot of snow, The Ruins is a pretty pure genre concept, a monster movie, not exactly a psychological or character study. It’s B-movie stuff all the way, though with cleverly-plotted gruesomeness. I don’t know that this film really needed to be anything more than it is, really, not that it is great. It’s a decent rendering, very much like one imagined everything in the novel.
It’s a group of Mayan Riviera partying 20-somethings who randomly decide to follow a German traveller into the jungle to find an “off the map” Mayan ruin where the German’s brother headed just a day or two previously with another small group. Once there, the group is trapped on the ruins by a group of Mayans who speak no Spanish much less English. And then there is this man-eating ivy stuff.
The film is pretty gruesome and gory, more so that one might expect. But other than that, it’s kind of paint by numbers. It’s painted okay. It’s just not particularly interesting. I found the predicament of the characters intriguing, trapped with no real hope of escape…but in the end, it’s not all that compelling. Though there is some speculation that the monster is some ancient thing that the Maya have been trying to keep in check for centuries, what is this fear about exactly? Americans believe that they will be missed and rescued, though are eaten up by some primordial nature? Kind of like The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)? Will they remake this as a musical in 25 years?
I doubt it.