The Ruins

Sam Urdank/Dreamworks

Review in a Hurry:  Four pretty young Ugly Americans forgo fun in the Mexican sun for a trip to an off-the-map Mayan ruin and find themselves at the mercy of a monstrous presence. Then something bad happens, then something else bad happens, pretty soon it's a circus of bad things happening and you wonder if you'll ever experience happiness again. Just like vacations are supposed to be!

The Bigger Picture:  There are tourist traps and then there are tourist traps, and the ruins of The Ruins are definitely the latter: a picturesque, vine-coated pyramid deep in the jungle, just the sort of real cultural experience that bookish Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) wants his girlfriend, Amy (Jena Malone), and their friends Eric and Stacy (Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey) to have as they wind up their postgraduation vacation.

Unfortunately, their real cultural experience includes real angry Mayans who promptly surround the ruins and won't let them leave.

Worse, the ruins are home to a carnivorous plant that seems not just hungry but downright malicious—it wants to play with its food.

You can hardly blame it—in both the film and the best-selling book it's based on, the vine's victims are a bunch of vacuous, self-absorbed crybabies, so much so that it's no surprise to see them outwitted by a monster that should be on the bottom of the food chain.

Uninspiring though they may be, though, our heroes hardly deserve this treatment—a series of grim torments that range from mild psychological warfare (an eerie screaming sound) to outright physical abuse (the vine trying to creep into their bodies as they sleep). With the stars trapped between the voracious vine and the implacable locals, The Ruins achieves a fine balance of horror and terror, a constant sense of dread punctuated by bursts of panic.

This is a tense, squirm-inducing experience, and about as scary as a film about a killer plant could possibly be. Fans of the book will be happy to hear that the film contains enough twists to hold their interest, in addition to gleefully visualizing some of the book's more gruesome bits. And The Ruins has a quality common enough to vacations but a rarity in horror films: When it's over, you can look back and realize you've been pleasantly surprised.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  It's pretty much an hour and a half of four irritating (but very pretty) people torturing themselves and one another while standing on top of a (very pretty) hill, no matter how many villagers and overgrown flytraps you throw into the mix. Just because it's done reasonably well is no reason to put yourself through it.

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