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Film / The Ruins

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They grow on you.

The Ruins is a 2008 film based on a novel of the same name by Scott Smith produced by Ben Stiller, and starring Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, and Laura Ramsey.

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 and novel contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: The novel never explains the nature of the vine and how it can do all the nightmarish things it does. Matthias and Jeff have a conversation where they speculate about the nature of the Mayans' relationship with the vine — Jeff thinks the villagers are quarantining the group of tourists to keep the vine isolated, while Matthias thinks it's some sort of religious taboo or sacrifice. The book never weighs in either way, and Matthias eventually says it's a pointless argument.
    • Did Stacy and Matthias actually sleep together, or was the vine just screwing with Eric? Stacy angrily denies it, while Matthias doesn't really answer Eric's angry questions.
  • 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. This is taken to a further extent in the original book, where the vine can speak in the voices of those it killed to mock its victims, and is smart enough to uproot any signs that were posted in the hopes of warning away prospective victims.
  • 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
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: The film keeps most of the plot elements of the book, but shuffles who experiences what in the film.
    • In the book, no one is murdered by the Mayans, whereas Dimitri in the film (the equivalent of the novel's Pablo) is killed by them almost immediately. In the novel he instead is the one to descend the pit and get injured before dying by strangulation from the vines, which happens to Matthias in the film.
    • Matthias in the novel is stabbed by a manic Eric, whereas in the film, Eric is stabbed by a manic Stacy, who has the exact plot arc of Eric from the novel, down to suffering from vines growing under the skin.
    • In the novel, Stacy kills herself as a warning to the other tourists, whereas Stacy in the film suffers the death of Eric from the novel, asking for a Mercy Kill from another character.
    • The only complete deviations are Jeff and Amy from the novel to film. In the novel, Jeff is killed in a botched attempt to escape, whereas Amy is strangled by the vines. In the film, only Matthias is strangled, and Jeff sacrifices himself so that Amy can (apparently successfully) escape.
  • Doomed Hurt Guy: After all the effort expended attempting to save Pablo (Matthias in the film), 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.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the film, Jeff is quickly established to be an athletic adventurer, given his physique and insistence that the group do something with their vacation except travel between the beach and the pool.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Fooled by the Sound: In both the book and film, the killer plants are able to learn sounds. They start off by imitating the sound of a ringing cell phone, which causes Pablo to get his back broken in the book, and then escalate to imitating voices to spread discord among the group.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A House Divided: The book emphasizes this trope, although it's still present in the movie. Amy keeps fighting with Jeff over her lack of survival instincts and over the fact that she didn't want to come. The vines exploit this both during and after her death to torture Jeff psychologically. Stacy and Eric argue over her sleeping with Mattias, but they make it up eventually.
  • 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!"
  • 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 and once you touch it, it will never stop until it gets your blood.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • The lead native shoots Jeff as the vines begin dragging him away.
    • Jeff does this earlier to a dying Stacy.
  • Never Trust a Title:
    • They think they're going to the ruins, but they actually don't make it that far before they encounter the real villain - the vines.
    • In the novel, the titular "ruins" are just...a mine shaft on top of a hill. There might be a big complex down the shaft, but the vines have completely taken over, so we never see whatever else is underground. There certainly isn't a big Machu Pichu-esque set of awe-inspiring ancient buildings.
  • 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.
  • Parasitic Horror: The evil vine not only eats people (or drinks their blood), but it also infects them with spores which then proceed to grow inside the victim. One of the main characters ends up killing herself as she tries to cut them out.
  • Patience Plot: The teens spend the entire movie and book waiting for the Greeks to show up (because they have one of their number with them), and so hold onto this as their hope of survival. In the book, everybody is dead before the Greeks show up (a few days later); in the film, everybody but Amy is already dead, and, as Amy is frantically fleeing from the Mayans, the Greeks can't do anything, there's nobody there to warn them, and they step on the vines and begin the cycle over again.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The entire plot could have probably been avoided if the teens understood Mayan or if the villagers understood English/Spanish.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sanity Slippage: Stacy in the film and Eric in the novel slowly lose their minds after suffering from the plant growing underneath their skin, leading to them self-mutilating in an attempt to get rid of it.
  • The Savage South: The story is made of this trope.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: In the novel, Stacy. She had no other options, but she attempted a Heroic Sacrifice by cutting her wrists and trying to leave her body at the path so that nobody else would make their mistake. The vines wait just long enough that she can't defend herself, but she can still feel everything as they pull her away from the path and kill her.
  • Sex in a Shared Room: After they get trapped on the hill and Pablo's back is broken in the book (after Matthias's death in the film), Stacy gives Eric a hand job while they are in a tent with Amy. Neither Stacy or Eric really care because their situation is so dire.
  • 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.
  • Sparedby The Adaptation: Amy, who is the first to die in the novel, is the only character to survive in the film.
  • 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.
  • Vine Tentacles: The vines are shown capable of actively attacking humans, attempting to grab them and even invades open wounds.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Salt keeps the Plant on the hill/pyramid. (In fairness this applies to most real plants.)
    • And gravity, too, considering the Plant can't even spread spores via air to colonise other areas, which would render moot all attempts to quarantine it on the ground. It's also apparently not smart enough to let a few birds or insects live to act as pollinators to spread its spores or seeds if it makes any.
  • 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.