The Ruins About the Production

“'The Ruins' was originally put together by Stuart Cornfeld and Ben Stiller,” explains producer Chris Bender. “They were fans of Scott Smith's first book A Simple Plan, which he also wrote as a screenplay, and which garnered an Academy Award nomination. Stuart and Ben were able to get a sneak look at a few chapters of The Ruins before it was published, brought it to DreamWorks, and they immediately bought it and began developing the project with Scott adapting it to the screen.”

At its most basic level, the story follows five vacationers who uncover Mayan ruins that are entangled with vicious man-eating vines, but the richly drawn novel is more than that - it is a struggle for survival. While executives were confident that Smith could translate that same frightening and all-too-recognizably human sensibility to his script, “It could have gone one of two ways once we got a director in there,” says Bender. “This could either have devolved into an incredibly cheesy killer plant movie or it could play with the viewers' psyches in ways that are a lot more intriguing and sinister, making this the true original it was on the page.”

To manage the difficult task of creating a suspense thriller that did justice to the texture and layers of Scott Smith's material, DreamWorks turned to director Carter Smith. Though he had never directed a full-length motion picture and was primarily known as a fashion photographer, after viewing his award-winning short film “Bugcrush,” they realized they'd found their man.

“I remember sitting in front of my television for at least 10 minutes after it ended and not moving a muscle,” says actress Jena Malone, who assumed the role of Amy in the film. “I was really creeped out because `Bugcrush' wasn't a straightforward thriller or horror movie. You could smell it, taste it, feel it-it was very unsettling. I'd never really read a lot of genre films, but after seeing `Bugcrush' and envisioning how `The Ruins' might look through Carter's strange goggles, I realized it would be genre-bending. The villain wouldn't really be the vines, it would be our own human nature and how we're reacting to things going on around us. That's when I knew this movie could be something really spectacular.”

For Carter Smith, the decision to take the reins of “The Ruins” rested on the pedigree of its author. “I had always been a fan of Scott Smith's book A Simple Plan and was in fact reading The Ruins when DreamWorks called and said they'd like me to look at the script. It was such a treat, because the ultimate resource for a filmmaker is a wonderfully written script and this one was fantastic. Having a script written by someone who also wrote the book is a real bonus because he's spent so much time with the characters that he knows them inside out, and this depth really comes out on the page. And let's face it - it's rare to read a genre script with compelling characters, period. And I'm a big fan of horror movies.

“What's interesting about these kids is that they're not cookie-cutter, clichéd characters,” Smith continues. “Amy and Stacy are best friends but their boyfriends are two guys who are just sort of thrown together. Then there's Mathias and his friend Dimitri. Mathias is the German tourist they've just met who wants to go to a Mayan dig and find his missing brother. Since most of them don't really know one another, what you have from the outset is this strange power dynamic: How do we all fit in together? Who am I in this group? None of that is really solidified when everything starts to go wrong. That's really great ground to start with, because you've got these multi-faceted characters with complex stuff happening all around them, which they react to in a very real way.”

“Scott Smith clearly knows how to write a scary story,” says executive producer Trish Hofmann. “He does really well with the psychological aspect of horror and what happens to normal people when they're in incredibly dire situations. In the same way, Carter is very subtle, always building toward the scare-so he and Scott had a fantastic relationship developing the story and figuring out what parts of the book to bring to life.”

For producer Chris Bender, “Jaws” is the perfect example of how a good thriller should be all about anticipating the impending attack and not simply the attack itself. “That was our aim with this movie - to give just enough information to make it frightening, so that you understand the vines' intentions. You'd see them move from time to time and wonder when they might strike again, but to a certain extent they remain a mystery.”

Both Bender and Hofmann attribute Carter Smith's background in photography as being another solid plus in generating on-screen tension and anxiety. “Carter's framing on this movie is incredible and has a very unique feel,” says Hofmann. “Most scary movies are done in the dark and it's all about wondering what's out there. But here the characters are on top of a hill in broad daylight and it's simply terrifying. For example, even before we know that the vines are the killers, he's got the camera positioned in these strange angles and you suspect it is the villain's POV. But because we're watching the characters from all over, it's incredibly creepy. Only later does it dawn on us that it might be the vines, because they, in fact, surround all the characters. It's a very clever and wonderfully visual way of maximizing suspense.”

As an avowed fan of horror films himself, Carter Smith was eager to create a fresh take on what could easily have been the usual process of elimination. “Usually horror movies are about people running from a killer and getting taken out one by one,” he observes. “That can be fun, but I wanted to make a film that, as a fan, I'd be excited to see. So for me, one of the creepiest, scariest things I can imagine is the idea of body invasion. Whether it's a tick or a worm or a killer vine surrounding a Mayan ruin, something about losing control of your own body is really frightening.”

And that's only part of the horror in “The Ruins,” he continues. “This isn't just a story in which something is attacking these kids from the outside. The real horror is internal. It emanates from the characters and the kind of behavior that results from them being in this perilous situation. We never spell it out in black and white. There are a lot of grey areas here -and that's what I love about this story.”

Adds Hofmann, “there's nothing typical about 'The Ruins.' It's a psychological horror story that will literally get under your skin.”

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