In many ways, Carter Smith’s “The Ruins” is a lot like another 2008 release: “Rambo.” Although “Rambo” is definitely the better film, “Ruins” still has plenty in common with it, starting with the so-bad-it’s-good feel the movie exudes. Both are over the top, with characters thrust into unbelievable situations in jungles far from any civilization. And despite low production values, both are surprisingly entertaining, even if just for an hour and a half.
A group of college students on vacation in Mexico decide to take in a little bit of the local culture before they leave. They learn of an ancient Mayan temple that’s off the beaten path and decide to make the trek out to the isolated locale. Once they arrive, a small group of local villagers appear, violently refusing to let them leave. After spending the evening atop the temple, it becomes clear why they can’t go — it’s infested with a plant-like virus, which can easily spread and kill anything in its path.
Let’s just get this out of the way — the production value of “Ruins” is terrible. The acting, dialogue, editing and cinematography are all bad. The computer-generated effects are somewhat decent, but it’s nothing spectacular. But with a film like this, no reasonable person should be expecting anything above average. So when all these aspects hit at a mediocre level, it’s not nearly as offensive as it normally would be.
That said, the violence is so ridiculous that you can’t help but have at least some fun with it, despite its gruesome nature. The story plays upon American’s fears of foreign, unknown lands, where civility and reason are thrown out the window. While the idea is nothing new, it’s sure to have you squirming in your seat on at least a couple occasions.
What “Ruins” does well is pacing. There is hardly any time wasted on these drunk, spaced-out kids getting to the temple — a definite plus. And considering that the majority of the film takes place atop an ancient ruin and still manages to entertain says a lot about how well it’s paced.
It’s nice that we don’t spend too much time getting to know the four characters because they are one-dimensional and boring. With “Ruins,” it’s quickly becoming clearer that the attractive college student who loves to do nothing but party is turning into the new clichéd character who everyone loves to hate. Smith understands this and plays upon this aspect in a big way. Any scene that involves the slightest bit of character development revolves around excessive drinking and sex. And it’s hilarious to watch these characters complain about visiting an ancient Mayan temple, something most would love to experience. It’s this complete disregard for anything that may enrich their lives that ends up having the audience rooting for the deadly virus to kill them. Truly, there were no sympathies from anyone in the audience when something terrible happened to these students.
With low production values, a bad story and flat characters, it seems like there’s isn’t much value in this movie. But these flaws are the film’s strengths. It does the cheesy, B-level horror film remarkably well. You can expect a lot of laughter, and I don’t think that it’s unintentional. Smith knew that audiences would be laughing at some of the absurd twists in the story, and these moments are focused on more than plot or character development for that specific reason.
The first few months of every year are always the worst in terms of the quality of films. When each weekend brings more films that studios wish they never would have green-lit, a film such as “The Ruins” offers a nice change of pace. This is by no means a good movie, but it still entertains and shocks. And that’s exactly what it sets out to do.