Two young American couples (Jeff and Amy along with Eric and Stacy) vacation in Mexico. At the pool of their hotel, they make friends with a German tourist, Mathias, and decide to help Mathias look for his brother, Heinrich. Heinrich has met a female archaeologist and followed her to an archaeological dig at a remote Mayan ruin in the jungle. The next morning Jeff, Amy, Eric, Stacy, Mathias and Demetri (a Greek tourist they also met at the hotel) begin the journey by bus.
The location of the ruin is shown on a crude map Heinrich drew before departing. After a long ride, the group arrives at a remote village near the dig and takes a worn-down taxi to the destination marked on the map. The driver tries to warn them away from this particular area. But shortly, they arrive at the trail head where they spot Heinrich's jeep and proceed.
Upon arrival, Mayan villagers appear with guns and bows. When Amy accidentally steps into vines covering the ruin, the Mayans aim their weapons at them. Demetri tries to calm the situation by walking over to Amy and grabbing the camera which he thought was the cause of the problem. After stepping into the vines and taking the camera he begins to walk towards the Mayans. Then he is struck with an arrow in his shoulder and then shot in the head. The Mayans then force the others up to the temple roof. They soon realize they are being quarantined, and learn the reason why - something truly horrifying is making its home there, and the Mayans don't want to let it escape.
Beware of spoilers.
This film contains examples of:
- Anti-Villain: The Mayan Villagers are set up as the villains at first, but they're strongly in the category of Necessarily Evil, with a bit of He Who Fights Monsters. They have to keep the Eldritch Location contained at all costs...including killing one of their own children when one of the protagonists hits him with a vine.
- Bilingual Bonus: The Mayans try their absolute best to warn the party about the carnivorous, infectious vines before one of them steps into them. Too bad none of them understand Mayan...
- Body Horror: The literally bloodthirsty vine tendrils grow right into the bodies of their victims...into their wounds, into their orifices, under their skin...
- Botanical Abomination: The man-eating vine growing on the Mayan ruins displays extraordinary intelligence and abilities, while its origins are pretty much unknown. It seems less like an ordinary Man-Eating Plant and more like some demonic or extraterrestrial entity wilfully tormenting the humans that go near it.
- Daylight Horror: Because blood-drinking ivy growing into open wounds is scary no matter how bright it is. However, the vines themselves are mostly active at night and in the dark...mostly.
- Deadly Road Trip: Let's go into the jungle! What could possibly go wrong!
- Death by Irony: In the novel Amy is killed as Jeff watches. His decision not to act on her behalf until she apologized is the only reason she died then. In his defense, it was too dark to have known what was happening to her.
- Death by Pragmatism: Downplayed with Jeff in the novel. From the beginning, he is painted as something of a Jerkass due to his cold and calculating nature. In retrospect, this makes him seem like the ideal hero of the situation after the horror kicks in at the second act. Turns out he embodies this trope as well as Decoy Protagonist. He is certainly pragmatic, what with being a medical student and all, and when one of the protagonists (the non-English speaking Woobie of the cast), becomes horribly injured, it is he who suggests an improvised amputation of both that character's legs, in order to prevent infection. Naturally, given their limited resources, his friends reject this idea. He is also the one later on who makes the discovery that this is the least of their worries, namely the Man-Eating Plant covering the hill they are trapped on. After a few more deaths, he additionally suggests cooking and eating the bodies of their fallen friends, in light of the fact they have next to no food or water. The remaining survivors are not thrilled with the idea, and neither is the audience, despite him simply demonstrating the need to survive. One could label Jeff as a Crazy Survivalist, but when you compare him the other heros, he seems to be the only one with a brain. Naturally, he is not rewarded for it; despite attempting the only logical solution of trying to sneak past their Mayan captors at nightfall. True to the trope, it doesn't work, and he takes 3 fatal arrows for his troubles, as well as being finished off by the sinister vines.
- Deconstruction: The novel picks apart the standard teens-get-lost-and-killed-by-monster/psycho story. You have annoying Final Girl Amy who dies first. You have Stacy, whose first bit of character information is that she cheated on her boyfriend, so she has to die. However, being the still cherished girlfriend of the strategist leader that's willing to die for her, she survives the longest. Jeff, a resourceful Eagle Scout who starts to realize how completely over his head the situation is. Mathias, the mysterious German who leads the group to the temple where all the action takes place, is obviously responsible for the whole situation as some sort of Nazi experiment. But he isn't, and is offended when the others joke about it. In the end, stupidity and gravity almost does more to hurt the group than the monster vines do.
- Determinator: The vine creature is perfectly inert - until someone touches it, at which point nothing will stop it from infecting them and drinking their blood. The Mayans know this, and ruthlessly quarantine or Mercy Kill anyone that touches the vines - even one of their own children.
- Developing Doomed Characters
- Doomed Hurt Guy: After all the effort expended attempting to save Matthias, he gets strangled by the vines in a rather cruelly offhanded manner while everyone is busy arguing.
- The End... Or Is It?: In an alternate ending, Amy escapes the Mayan quarantine only to be killed as the vines burst out of her body. A gravekeeper later hears someone whistling his own tune back at him and sees the ivy flowers growing around her headstone. The ending shown also could qualify as this; Amy did touch the vines, but doesn't seem infected...or is she? If so, wherever she ends up is going to be in a world of hurt very, very quickly.
- The Film of the Book
- Good All Along: The armed band of natives at first seem like murderous villains from the point of view of the protagonists, but the real Big Bad is the vine-creature, which efficiently infects anything it touches with itself. The protagonists really shouldn't be allowed to leave the ruins alive, but mercy-killing them all — the most logical action — would make for a very short movie.
- Gorn: This movie's swimming in it. Special examples:
- You may not be squeamish, but you will feel physically ill during the leg-amputation scene.
- Or when they tug the vines out of their open wounds.
- Heavy on the amateur surgery, including Stacy filleting her leg on-screen trying to get at nonexistent vines, having been driven to it by the Madness Mantra below.
- Here We Go Again!: In the film Amy manages to get away, presumably uninfected in the original cut - but, as the movie ends, Dimitri's Greek friends finally show up at the ruins, unwittingly about to kick off the whole cycle again...
- Heroic Sacrifice: In the film, Jeff distracts the Mayans long enough for Amy to get away, and gets shot to death for his troubles.
- It Can Think: The unfortunate campers realize the plant-like entity they're trapped with is mimicking their voices to lure them into a trap. It also mimics a cell phone ringtone further inside the ruin because it knows humans will go to that noise. When it learns of one girl's strong desire to cut herself, it proceeds to repeat her own words to her "I want to cut, I want to cut I want to cut IWANTTOCUT!"
- Kill 'Em All: Narrowly averted in the movie. Played absolutely straight in an alternate ending.
- Madness Mantra: By proxy, when Stacy starts obsessing about wanting to cut out the plants that she feels growing under her skin and says, "I want to cut it," and then the flowers start echoing that phrase over and over.
- Man-Eating Plant: A particularly disturbing example at that. These don't simply consume people. They drink blood, and will grow right into skin or orifices to get to it. Worse, it mimics the sounds made near it to lure unwary humans right to it - see It Can Think and Madness Mantra below - and once you touch it, it will never stop until it gets your blood.
- Meganekko: Amy.
- Mercy Kill:
- The lead native shoots Jeff as the vines begin dragging him away.
- Jeff does this earlier to a dying Stacy.
- Orifice Invasion: The Man-Eating Plant will get to your blood any way it can - lacking open wounds or other convenient routes to blood vessels, it will simply grow into your orifices.
- Salt the Earth: Quite literally. The villagers are shown pouring bags and bags of salt all around the temple to make absolutely sure the vines can't spread.
- The Savage South : The story is made of this trope.
- Schmuck Bait: The "cell phone" and the steps to reach it. The whole temple and the innocent looking ivy vines are a giant economy-sized version of trope.
- Thanatos Gambit: Jeff's idea of an escape is to get himself killed, and with his death distract the Mayans, so that Amy can escape.
- Too Dumb to Live: In the movie, this applies to everyone. In the book, it's mostly Eric, Stacy, and Amy. Special points go to Eric, who tries to take a knife away from a psychotic Stacy twice. The first time he gets his hand cut. The second time he gets it in his heart...and he's the lucky one.
- Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice: The villagers keep the protagonists in the ruins at gunpoint and when one of them angrily tosses a vine that hits a child, they shoot him dead and throw his corpse behind the boundary.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Mayan villagers living near the mountain who kill anyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with the vines to ensure nobody makes it out alive to spread the infection.
- Worst Aid:
- Oh no, his legs are infected. Clearly we should cut them off in unsanitary conditions with no bandages or antiseptics available. Because that won't lead to a person whose new wounds will promptly get infected, the only change being that he now doesn't have any legs.
- Oh, you just fell 20+ feet and can't feel your legs? Let's pick you up and move you. Ignore the Sickening "Crunch!", it's probably nothing.