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With Jim Sabatini

The Ruins

The Ruins
Dimitri Baveas, Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shaw Ashmore and Laura Ramsey

Rated: R for strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: April 4, 2008 Released by: DreamWorks Animation

For some who enjoy the lurid and the gratuitous, The Ruins is inexpensive fun to watch a group of interesting-looking vacationing friends encounter a grim reality.

Tyro helmer Carter Smith, known for his fashion photography, keeps things bright for a little while before darkening the adventure set in Mexico, mainly in a faraway archaelogical dig in the jungle.

Scott B. Smith, no relation to the director, adapts his own novel, with little depth beyond the struggle to survive. Ten years ago, his book A Simple Plan was translated by Sam Raimi with cinematic might into a robbery gone worse than all expectations.

A German stranger (Dimitri Baveas) leads med-student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), his girlfriend Amy (Jena Malone), Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and his girlfriend Stacy (Laura Ramsey) from the coastal, warm, creamy setting to the ominous forest. The couples are together because Amy and Stacy are friends, but relationships can suddenly change when their predicament becomes raw and dire. Even after Baveas's Dimitri takes a bullet.

The production values aim to create terror on a visceral level, with nary any psychological implications. This rough, gradually disturbing picture deserves acknowledgement for creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos and prosthetics designer Jason Baird, as the visual effects heighten the group's discomfort with infested killer vines. The sanguine reality for our naive friends lets Baird do his thing with "gelatinous bone material".

The Ruins doesn't quite vitiate itself into Hostel territory, though these characters seemed to be more personally invaded than the hedonists in the like-minded Turistas. It hardly exceeds its genre trappings, more floral in a way to get under the skin. Much of the happenings after locals have their way go unexplained in order to let the infestation have its way.

The storyline's focus and pacing doesn't invite much in the way for the characters, but the young adult actors do fairly well as victims. Malone (Into The Wild) tries to let us into someone beyond a passion for "endless beaches and tropical drinks". Tucker (The Deep End) brings something into Jeff's background of studying the human anatomy, while Ashmore's easy-going nature is challenged. And, Ramsey (Lords of Dogtown) tries her best to convey an obsession with the vicious vines as the vortex of discomfort intensifies.

However, what The Ruins may be remember for, besides the vines and their sounds which may be imitated on some cellular devices, are its cheeky, silly lines. An extreme, grotesque creepshow operates with plenty of random foolishness, especially when having tequila around for an amputation.

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