What?! The Ruins (2008) is turning 15 years already? Sheesh. Well, let’s look back at 2008, a hard year for horror films featuring killer plants. It was a decade of ‘torture porn.’ Audiences craved more horror sequels to Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005), while thrillers like The Ruins and The Happening (2008) were left leading with the chin in the box office prize ring. Gone was the fascination of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978). Where’s Rick Moranis (Little Shop of Horrors 1986) when you need him?
I, like many, didn’t go to the theaters to see The Ruins, but I did start to catch a buzz when it made its way to a new novel idea at the time: “streaming” on Netflix. It was home media where The Ruins found its roots! See what I did there?
The Ruins Synopsis
The Ruins is a 2008 horror film directed by Carter Smith (Swallowed 2022) and written by Scott B. Smith (The Peripheral 2022), based on his 2006 novel of the same name, with Ben Stiller (Severance (2022) serving as executive producer. The film stars Jonathan Tucker (Hostage 2005), Jena Malone (The Neon Demon 2016), Shawn Ashmore (Frozen 2010), Laura Ramsey (The Covenant 2006), and Joe Anderson (The Crazies 2010). The story follows a pair of couples on vacation in Mexico who join a tourist to visit a remote Mayan ruin, that unfortunately is inhabited by a carnivorous vine growth.
The Ruins was released by DreamWorks/Paramount Distribution on April 4, 2008. The film received mixed reviews from critics, and was a box-office bomb; only earning $22.9 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of $25 million, but redeemed when released on DVD on July 8, 2008 in both R-rated and unrated versions. It debuted at #4 on the DVD Sales Chart and found a cult following on digital and home media.
Two young American couples – Jeff, Amy, Eric, and Stacy – go on vacation to Mexico. They meet Mathias, a German tourist, who is looking for his brother Heinrich. His last known location is an archaeological dig at a remote Mayan ruin in the jungle. Mathias is also joined by his friend Dimitri. The couple tandem is on their last night on vacation and decided that instead of just another day of drinking on the beach and taking photos by the pool, they could use some adventure. An Ancient Mayan temple off the beaten path should do the trick.
The group hikes through the thick rainforest to reach the ruins of a Mayan temple. The treeline transitions to open bare ground. From the base of the temple to the peak is cloaked in overgrown vines. The group is swiftly confronted by agitated Mayan villagers armed with bows, arrows, and guns on horseback.
“We’re being quarantined here. We are being kept here to die!” – Amy
Mathias tries to explain their purpose, but the Mayan villagers don’t speak English or Spanish. When Amy accidentally steps on some vines by the temple’s bottom steps, the villagers become violently alarmed. Dimitri approaches them hoping to calm the villagers, but they hastily shoot and kill him. The rest of the group retreats up the steps of the ruins.
At the top, they find an abandoned camp and a shaft in the center. The group hears a phone ringing from somewhere inside the ruins. They lower Mathias down the shaft with a rope, but the aged rope bursts and Mathias falls, becoming paralyzed. Amy descends the temple steps hoping to reason with the Mayans, but to no success. Impassioned, she throws a clump of vines which hits a young villager boy, whom the Mayans promptly execute.
The group unearths the Mayan villager’s angst about the vines, and will not let them leave because they have all touched the vegetation engulfing the ruins. The villagers do not even come close to approaching the temple. They have kept the perimeter bare of vine growth by heavily saturating the surrounding soil with salt. The Mayan ancestors have set camp around the ruins to make sure no trespasser leaves alive.
The next morning, the group awakens to the vines wrapping themselves around Mathias’ lower legs and eating them down to the bone. The couples continue to hear a cell phone ringing from deep in the shaft. Desperate, Stacy and Amy descend into the ruins in a small, vine-covered room.
The two find the body of a young archaeologist and a broken phone. They then realize that the ringing sound was made by the flowers on the vine. As Amy touches one flower, the vines attack and the two barely escape. The group is now in peril of a new threat, and it’s not the Mayan ancestors keeping guard. It’s the vines, the flowers, and the spores growing on them, and in them.
I’m sure if I branched out *wink wink* and read The Ruins novel, it would go deeper into the psychological torture the group endured from the carnivorous vines. I still found the antagonist plants to be sinister as hell.
From the growth’s ability to replicate sounds to turn the group on themselves, and their persistent persuasion to induce self-harm, the invasiveness of feeling plant volunteers moving under your skin is just evil. They stalk and patiently pick you apart mentally and physically.
The script was also picked on, not by plants, but by critics. Mediocre writing was concealed by convincing acting of a survivor’s mental deterioration. The SFX looked great, but the amputation and mutilation scenes were modest. Plus making an inanimate plant a monster is no easy feat. But it landed believable and not too over the top.
The Ruins (2008) Final Thoughts
I honestly had fun from the first time I saw The Ruins and still revisit it from time to time because if you can believe it, The Ruins is just as forgettable as it is enjoyable. What can I say, The Ruins grew on me! – I couldn’t help myself.
The Ruins may have just been released 10-15 years too early. 2008 was the beginning of an end to an era. Cinemas and box offices made or broke movies. Unless you made straight-to-home video movies, if the film had a large budget you had to hit the opening weekend and spend millions on advertising.
This formula still applies today, but there are many more avenues for releasing with crowdfunding and a plethora of streamers. I feel if The Ruins was released today with a more efficient release strategy and writers with fewer hands in the soil, it would’ve done much better and avoided getting lost in the weeds. Ok, I promise no more plant puns.
Watch The Ruins On Digital platforms today and check out the trailer!