May we cut to the chase? The Ruins is fucking awful.

I'm sorry if that was indelicate, but sometimes it just does not do to pussyfoot around things. There's really nothing in the film of any entertainment value, not even the inadvertent sort. It's powerfully stupid in concept and execution - I am told by those who've read the book that it works because of how slyly it insinuates the reader into the weirder paranormal elements, but there is nothing sly about the film at all. It noisily cranks through its exposition into its terribly silly second and third acts and leaves nothing like an interesting character, compelling plot point or memorable image along the way.

In the touristy part of Mexico, four 22-year-olds played by actors only a couple years older than that mark hang out by the pool and suck at life. There is Jeff (Jonathan Tucker, who is allegedly hot, but all I could notice was how his lips seem to vanish every time he talks), the medical student; Amy (Jena Malone), his girlfriend; Stacy (Laura Ramsey), Amy's best friend; and Eric (Shawn Ashmore, Iceman from the X-Men films in a delightfully unironic beard), Stacy's boyfriend. But really, these aren't characters, they're character types: Jeff is Our Hero, Eric is Beard Dude, Amy is Slutty McDrinker and Stacy is Willing To Walk Around Topless In That One Scene Girl.

That might actually be the one saving grace of The Ruins. Not specifically that Laura Ramsey is topless in one scene, but the smuttiness that courses through the first ten minutes or so, making me nostalgic for those good old days when all you needed to make a shitty horror picture was a naked girl, fake blood, and no CGI. In addition to Ramsey's five-degrees-from-full-frontal act, we're also treated to Tucker's bare ass through shower glass, Ashmore's boxer shorts tenting rather mightily first thing in the morning, and a fairly lengthy disquisition on blow-job etiquette, in addition to the de rigueur conversations of overly-horny young people. This isn't enough to save the movie; indeed, this isn't even of itself something that falls in the "positive" column. But in a world of prim and puritanical horror movies, any trace of puckish naughtiness that can manage to sneak through is a welcome respite from sterile teenyboppers. I'm just now realising that I've written a paragraph claiming that the best part of The Ruins is that it reminds me of '80s slasher films. God help me.

Anyway, Our Hero, Beard Dude, Slutty McDrinker and Topless all meet up with Mathias, German Guy With A British Accent, and why not, since he's being played by Joe Anderson, of Across the Universe* and Control. In about as much time as it takes to synopsise it, Mathias has convinced the fantastic four to join him on a trip to an ancient lost Mayan temple where his brother Heinrich went missing just a couple days ago. Jeff, the only one who doesn't enjoy sitting around in the resort fucking and drinking, convinces the others that this would be a swell way to end their vacation.

The various character moments [sic] and plot bends that take place over the next while are obvious and idiotic enough that I can only assume that the film has been much changed from the book, or that fans of horror literature must be even harder up than fans of horror cinema, because what follows veers between clichΓ©d (the Mexican taxi driver warns them Not To Go There), contrived (everything about the first thirty minutes, really) or just goddamn stupid (the small pocket of Mayans who remain in the jungle have stationed children as their watchdogs). But let's gloss over all of that. Nobody goes to movies like this to see how the characters arrive at the place of death, but what manner of terrifying death awaits them, right? Right, and in this case, it's vines. Living vines, that can mimic sounds and even human speech (the scene where this is revealed is actually fairly effective on its own), and can plant their evil little spores in you, making you a killer vine carrier, and this explains why the Last Mayans on Earth feel the need to trap four Americans and one German on an ancient pyramid.

And you know how those evil sentient vines kill you? Just kind of...by killing you. Bursting out of your body until you die of infection and blood-loss, or craziness. Not by turning you into a plant-man, or blowing you up like the chest-burster in Alien. If you've elected that your horror monster is going to be something as lame as killer vines, I think you're sort of required to come up with something excitingly outrΓ© for them to do. That, or you have to heavily invest your horror movie with an atmosphere of hopelessness and foreboding, so that the terror is not in what the vines are going to do, but that you are going to die if you stay stuck on that pyramid, and The Ruins is in the fabric of its being, not the kind of horror movie you describe with the word "atmospheric."

Basically, this is for two reasons: one, screenwriter Scott Smith, adapting his own novel (which, I stress, was well-liked), has set forth a cast of characters as repellent and hateful as any Friday the 13th film could ever manage, and so the only possible reason we could want to watch them die is because we expect acrobatic gore (there is some gore, but it is not nearly pornographic enough to make the deaths of these awful people cathartic); and two, director Carter Smith (no relation), a former fashion photographer, fails completely in just about every way a director can fail: his film is indifferently shot, feels much longer than it is, the application of unsexy grime make-up passes for character development and everything that might have been creepy in the dark is over-lit. It is not scary, not foreboding, and the film pauses at exactly the moments it would have to pause if the filmmakers wanted to make sure that the audience had the fullest possible chance to reflect on the inanity of talking, sentient, carnivorous vines.

So little about The Ruins works, and its failures are of the simplest and most obvious kind, that I'd love to call it insulting. However I fear that would miss the mark: the insult is not done to the audience, who should have been able to predict exactly what they got from the ad campaign, but to the filmmakers and actors, who are going to have to live the rest of their lives with this film wedged in their CV like a black hole.

2/10