Carter Soles’s The Ruins (2008) was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by author (and screen-writer) Scott B. Smith. The film company purchased rights to the story before the novel was even published. The movie is considered a box office success. It cost an estimated $8 million to make, and earned $8,003,241 during its opening weekend and $22,728,043 total worldwide. Critically, it received mixed reviews, which is actually a pretty great accomplishment for a horror film.
The deaths of the characters were changed in order and method between the novel and the film. In fact, in the novel, nobody survives, but the film contains a final girl survivor in Amy (Jena Malone), who was the first character to die in the novel. Perhaps this was done so that readers would still be surprised by the outcomes of the film’s characters, as well as to not have as bleak an ending as the book.
A group of four American college friends, including Amy (Jena Malone), her boyfriend Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Stacy (Laura Ramsey), and her boyfriend Eric (Shawn Ashmore), enjoy the end of their group vacation to a Mexican resort. While lounging by the pool, they meet Mathias (Joe Anderson), a German tourist planning a trip to see the secret ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. He invites the four to join him and, after Jeff convinces the other three members of the group that they should include some culture in their trip, they set off with Mathias for the ruins the next morning. Upon arriving at the site, a group of locals emerge from the woods, yell at the tourists in Spanish, and point their guns at them. Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas), a Greek tourist who joined the group is shot and killed. The locals seem to want the group to go on top of the ruins. The rest of the group, realizing that the locals aren’t joking, climb to the top of the ruins. At the top, they hear a cell phone ringing at the bottom of a pit located in the center of the ruins. This is great news, given the fact that the ruins are surrounded by the angry locals, and none of their cell phones are getting service. Mathias agrees to be lowered down, but the rope breaks, and he breaks his back at the bottom of the pit. Stacy goes down to help him, but gets a piece of glass stuck in her leg. To make matters worse, after both are brought back up, the group discovers that vines have grown inside of both of their cuts. These are removed, but they seem to always return. Stacy and Amy go back down into the shaft and learn the awful truth: it’s the vines that are making the sound of a cell phone! Mathias needs his legs amputated in order to prevent a fatal infection. Jeff, who has spent a year or two in medical school, feels that he is up to the task and recruits Eric to act as his assistant. The legs are immediately carried away by the malevolent plants. Stacy discovers that there are vines inside of her body and she can feel it in her brain. She steals a knife away from Jeff and tries to carve them out of her body. Eric and Jeff try to grab the knife away. Stacy slices Jeff’s hand and fatally stabs Eric, who is carried away by the vines. After Mathias and Stacy die, Amy and Jeff come up with a plan. Jeff distracts the Mayans, who shoot him. He dies and is carried off by the plants. During this distraction, Amy makes a run for their jeep. She finds it and drives away, crying hysterically.
Notes & Quotes
- This film is most helpful for me as an example of a subgenre of the ecohorror film known as plant horror. These plants pose a direct threat to humanity and even callously mock the protagonists through mimicking their screams and cell phone. There is also a sense of contamination as a result of contact with nature. The locals urge the the tourists up the ruins only after they see that Amy has stepped in the vines. Later in the film, Amy panics and throws a clump of vines at the locals, hitting a young boy. The boy is almost immediately shot by the man who appears to be the group’s leader. As the film progresses, the tourists discover that the plants are not only burrowing into them (I think this can only happen once they are cut or dead), but that they are also growing on their clothes. Because of this (and also for sex appeal), the female characters also slowly loose articles of their clothing as the film progresses.
I also noticed how, the moment their journey to see the ruins begins, the characters are shot in a way to emphasize the fact that they are surrounded by potentially threatening greenery. Prior to this, they are shot at beach, resort, and other decidedly not-green settings. However, even then, there are nods to the green they are about to encounter. For example, Amy dons a green bikini top. Carter Soles stuck to a really strict color palette, focusing on greens surrounding reds (blood, the flowers on the vines) and bits of yellows (the van and the tent).
- This movie also plays with the final girl trope. Typically the final girl is sexually unavailable and refrains from all “immoral” activities (sex, drugs, drinking). However, Amy gets wasted the night before their trip to the ruins and kisses Mathias after Jeff, her boyfriend, leaves her drunk on the beach. It is also not her ability to be resourceful (though she is, in fact, she often seems to have more medical knowledge than Jeff), but rather dumb luck and Jeff’s sacrifice that keeps her alive to the end of the film. The Ruins also works to evoke the rural gothic genre via its group of college-educated outsiders who are just passing through and its malevolent locals who remain stagnantly attached to ancient ruins and sacrificial rituals. Amy is able to escape via a van despite the fact that she is chased by the locals because they remain on foot and, for some reason, never moved or destroyed the van. Also, the tourists were there just to appreciate culture leisurely, while the locals view the ruins as integral to their own survival.
The Ruins (2008) by Caitlin Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.