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Reviews: The Ruins (2008) and The Untamed (2016)

This month’s Kryptic Army Mission from Kitley’s Krypt was “to celebrate those of Mexican heritage in the horror film genre” by finding and watching two never before seen horror films that were either produced in Mexico, take place in Mexico, or were directed by someone of Mexican descent.

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I started with one that Jon suggested, which is also one about which, oddly, I’ve been hearing some buzz lately. I remember when The Ruins was released, it received scathing reviews. Not one to believe everything I read, these were bad enough that I never saw it. It didn’t help that I had seen A Simple Plan a decade earlier and was disappointed in the film version of the earlier best-selling novel by Scott Smith.

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Let The Ruins be an example of how you shouldn’t discount something based on factors that aren’t exactly related. I loved this movie and I think it’s because it’s not complicated; it just is what it is… and it really works. There’s no scientific study or explanation of the menace that has five college students trapped on the top of the hidden and isolated Mexican ruins. There’s no explosive battle to destroy it. It’s merely about escape and survival.

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There’s no better way to treat what is, in essence, a killer plant movie. I can hear the groans now. However, this is like no other killer plant movie. There is no tree monster or shrubbery that walks uprooted. There are, though, vines that slither across the ground like snakes and enter your body through any opening, particularly bloody wounds, then crawl under your skin until they drive you crazy.

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The Ruins is super-gory, but not gratuitously so. Not since Misery (1990) has there been such a graphic assault on the legs with a heavy, blunt object. And what do you do when tiny plant/worm things are crawling under your skin driving you crazy? You cut them out, of course. Since they move so quickly, you have to keep on cutting. If the sight of vines entering your body doesn’t make you shiver, what about slowly pulling them out like long, endless strands of spaghetti?

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Who needs subplot or character development with all this? I often make light of casts depending solely on the appearance of hot young actors to make us care, but scantily-clad college students on a vacation gone to hell seems to work in this movie. We know just enough about best friends Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) and their boyfriends Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) to want them to survive.

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Good horror movies often have people that are as despicable as the monsters. Here, there are natives surrounding the ruins, keeping the kids from leaving. Sure, they want to prevent them from bringing the terror with them, but they are ruthless and, in some ways, a bigger threat to survival than the killer vines. And, of course, the kids have to make some questionable choices themselves that test their morality.



Speaking of tendrils entering bodies, The Untamed, or La region salvaje (2016) opens with a young lady naked and lying on the floor. As she moans in ecstasy, the camera pulls back slowly and we see a long, slimy… something... slithering back from between her legs. This shocking scene is nothing compared to what we’ll see later. It’s something I’m not sure I can describe, much less even want to describe.

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We see nothing as shocking during most of the rest of the film; in fact, there’s probably only two more scenes with the creature. That is, unless you find it shocking that poor Alejandra’s (Ruth Ramos) husband, Angel (Jesus Meza), is cheating on her with her gay brother, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio.) If you haven’t guessed, The Untamed deals with sexual themes and is as graphic with “everyday sex” as it is with “creature sex.”

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Everyone seems sexually frustrated, or, at least, unhappy. However, when Veronica, the young lady from the opening, introduces the characters to the creature that apparently arrived on earth via meteor, and is being studied by scientist Sr. Vega (Oscar Escalante) and his wife, Marta (Bernarda Trueba), in the woods, they find a form of ecstasy. At first, they can’t get enough, but then their clandestine encounters lead to death and destruction.

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I’ve probably said too much. None of this plot is obvious at first. The story unfolds slowly with deliberate shots of the misty countryside where the creature resides. Then, its shocks are delivered matter-of-factly with no other building of suspense. This doesn’t matter, though, because The Untamed leaves you on edge for its entire 98-minute running time. I was enthralled every minute. It’s certainly not boring.

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Unlike the characters in The Ruins, you care about these people more than with hopes of their survival. It’s pretty clear no one’s going to survive, if not physically, at least emotionally. Maybe we identify with people that are so miserable they seek pleasure from wherever they can get it, and then there’s never enough of it. It’s escapist fantasy gone wrong. However, it’s a horror movie gone right. Disturbing and thoughtful, The Untamed will stick with me for a long time.



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