The Ruins (2008)

the ruins

“We’re being quarantined here. We’re being kept here to die.”

The Scoop: 2008 R, directed by Carter Smith and starring Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone and Laura Ramsey

Tagline: Terror has evolved.

Summary Capsule: College kids go off the beaten path in Mexico, and it certainly doesn’t come back to bite them in the bum. Oh, wait. Yes it does.

Justin’s rating: Green thumb? Try RED thumb bwahahahaha!

Justin’s review: One of my favorite Stephen King short stories is “The Raft”, in which four friends decide to go for one final Indian summer swim in a remote lake, where they get stranded on a wooden raft in the middle of the water as some terrifying entity – seen only as an oil slick-like blob – surrounds them and seeks to devour them. They can only live as long as they stay on the raft, but how long could that be? The horror doesn’t come from jump scares or big scary monsters; it comes from a hopeless situation that has only one possible outcome. The only question is how they get there, and how quickly. (Creepshow 2 adapted this as one of their story segments.)

Scott Smith owes a huge debt of homage to King for both Smith’s novel and screenplay of The Ruins, because this is essentially “The Raft” in a different setting and much more drawn out. Substitute “lake” for “ancient Mayan ruins,” “oil blob creature” for “ticked off flora/natives,” and there you go. The recipe for a couple hours of dread, despair and ultimate futility. That doesn’t make either of the stories any less fascinating – you simply can’t help asking yourself, “What would I do in this situation?” Probably nothing more than the characters do, to tell the truth.

Four American tourists, ripe for horror’s plucking, spend their last day on vacation in Mexico visiting an old Mayan temple. But not just any Mayan temple – this one is off the map and widely regarded by the locals to be evil. The past archaeological expedition that visited it vanished without a trace. And when they get there, natives emerge with guns and bows and arrows to warn them away.

Hey, they think, why not go check it out! We’re sure nothing bad can happen, because we’re young and cute and have our cellphones and a bottle of Aquafina! Whee! Take some pictures, while we’re at it, and steal their souls before we go traipsing on their sacred burial mound!

It’s this strong-headedness that just makes me fall in love with horror victims all over again.

So when the four Americans, along with a German and some other guy who dies too early to be of any interest to me, head up to the ruins, I don’t have a lot of sympathy. I didn’t when I read the book, either – the characters were some of the most unsympathetic whiners and jerks that I’ve come across since Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever.

The crux of the film is their plight on top of the temple ruins, surrounded by the natives and dwelling among something too horrible for most florist shops. They can’t leave or they’ll die; they can’t stay or they’ll die. Choices, choices.

In some movies, a plucky few survivors might start to uncover the mystery behind the evil in order to combat it directly, but this isn’t that sort of film. Shot in mostly natural light, we’re here to witness the final hours and days of six people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. John McClane, eat your heart out. It gets depressing, it gets gory, and even though it’s out in the wide open, you can’t help but feel claustrophobic as their choices narrow down to a gruesome few.

It’s not a perfect movie, but The Ruins has resonated quite a bit with horror fans. It’s more suspense than slasher, and the premise (while completely silly) is arresting in its setup. Some movies beckon you to check them out based on the premise alone (if the bus goes below 55, it explodes!), and that is arguably the best reason to see this film. But don’t go into it expecting them to avoid familiar missteps that nearly every scary flick makes. And people: never, EVER go off with a strange German into the middle of the jungle. If Indiana Jones can learn this, why can’t you?

The Ruins is exactly why I return to the horror genre, even against the advice of counsel. It’s a lot mean, a bit dumb, and lacking any real depth whatsoever – yet there’s imagination at work here that makes for a compelling viewing. If only other genre writers would pick up on the unleashed creativity that is festooned throughout horror, we would all be much better off for it.

Well... that's something you don't see every day. Picture time!
Well… that’s something you don’t see every day. Picture time!


  • The book and film, despite being written by the same guy, have a few differences (who gets killed when, etc.). I found the novel to be a LOT more depressing and horrific, as it could stretch these events out over a longer span of time.
  • If the natives were trying to warn the tourists away, shouldn’t they act a bit friendlier?
  • He ACTUALLY told them to “split up” in the scary ruins? Seriously?
  • If Mexican taxi drivers tell you a place is “evil”, then… maybe don’t go
  • A flower was alive? Perish the thought!

Groovy Quotes

Amy: We’re being quarantined here. We’re being kept here to die.

Jeff: Four Americans on vacation don’t just disappear!

Jeff: People come from all over the world just to see these ruins, especially one that’s not on the map. I’m not taking you to some tourist trap, honey. Don’t you want to have some experience or something to shoot other than the beach, the pool, the beach, the pool?

Eric: Oh, the terrible wrath of Jeff, followed by I’m sure the more frightening whining of Amy.

Stacy: And it was covered. Why would it be covered?
Jeff: Maybe the archaeologists don’t want people finding the site, guys.
Amy: [sarcastically] Well great, they’re going to be thrilled to see us then.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Creepshow 2
  • Cabin Fever
  • Touristas

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