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The Ruins

Year: 2008
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
Director: Carter Smith
Writer: Scott B Smith
Cast: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey
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Spoiler!

I was prepared for a schlocky, high concept but poorly executed horror romp, more Piranha 3D than The Devil’s Backbone. It wasn’t quite a moody horror classic, but it’s far from a disposable teen-targeted scarefest with tits and beer.

The Queensland bush stands in for Mexico as a foursome of holidaying American kids meet a German backpacker who tells them about a hidden Mayan ruin he’s heard is worth a look. Accompanied by his Mexican friend, the group drives and hikes deep into the jungle and come across the temple, overgrown with vines and seeming like the idyllic hidden holiday destination.

But as they approach the temple a group of very angry and armed Mexicans appear, not only blowing the Mexican kid’s head off but gesturing for the others to go up to the peak and not come back, their fate if they do quite obvious.

The terrified party escapes the thugs, unaware that a much worse danger awaits them in the form of the vines they hardly paid any attention to, which survive on blood and flesh, can mimic sound and – in one of the creepiest scenes, have creepers that can move deceptively fast.

They can hear a phone below them in the darkness and when they try to lower the German down to retrieve it and the rope breaks he’s left with a broken back, well and truly stranding them.

What follows is an effective chiller as the group dynamics break down, interspersed with scenes of effective dread as they realise what they’re up against. In one of the scarier scenes, the girls have gone down to try to find the phone they keep hearing, discover it smashed and dead, and follow the source of the ringing as they close slowly in on the flowers, vibrating to produce the noise.

Cute leads, an effective premise, little downtime and only a few rough patches of performance and scripting make it more than you expect.

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