Jonathan Tucker

Learn how Scott Smith's gruesome bestseller got turned into this year's most anticipated horror film

On July 18th, 2006, Scott Smith released his second novel titled The Ruins. It soon became a phenomenon amongst horror enthusiasts. The storyline follows a young group of tourists on vacation in Cancun. They come to find themselves entrapped by a killer vine while out looking for ancient Mayan ruins. The novel was a thrill-a-minute blood bath that quickly crossed over into the main stream. It's loyal fan base reaches far and wide.

On April 4th, 2008, Carter Smith is bringing the horrific novel to the big screen. With Scott Smith himself serving as the screenwriter, this duo has managed to vividly recreate the gruesome world of The Ruins. Its nihilistic ending in tact. Next week, Paramount Pictures will be releasing the official blood-soaked red-band trailer in support of the film. The clip promises to be an exhilarating look at one of the most horrifying films of the year.

In conjunction with the release of this new footage, we recently got on the phone with the thriller-master director himself, Carter Smith. Here is our conversation about The Ruins:

How far along is the movie? Or is it finished yet?

Carter Smith: Well, its not finished yet. But it is closer to being finished everyday. We are rapidly approaching picture lock in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. There is definitely a finish line in sight.

That is coming up pretty quick, then. I'm sorry to take you away from that.

Carter Smith: It's all right. We are actually locked here. We have just sent it out for final approval from everyone. We are just in waiting mode, making sure that everyone is happy with all of the little tweaks that we have been up to.

The obvious question, of course, is: Did you ever look to Biolante or Twoey from Little Shop of Horrors for inspiration in bringing your killer plant to the big screen?

Carter Smith: No. (laughs) We made a conscious decision early on that those weren't the kinds of killer plants that we were going for. The tone of the story, and the type of story that this is doesn't play to camp. It's more of a story about struggling to survive than it is a monster movie. I think that was because of the focus of the storytelling. The quote-unquote monster became a mechanism for the characters' undoing.

I was just joking about Biolante. I've read a lot about this film, and I've seen the book. I know what its about. It is actually pretty horrifying. Is it tough to convince audiences that this isn't some cheesy, ridiculous man-eating plant story?

Carter Smith: Yeah. That is the problem with promoting and selling this movie. As soon as you say those "killer plant" words, it sounds ridiculous. From the very beginning, my take was that this story needed to be treated with such realism. It needed to take place so squarely in the real world. You don't even question it when the shit starts to happen. By that time, you are so invested in these characters and their world, and their situation. It is not a huge jump that this parasitic being could be working its way into them.

Can you tell me a little bit about how your created the monster for this film?

Carter Smith: Yeah. Because it is a vine, I did a lot of nature and botanic research. I looked at a lot of different type of plants, and leaves, and flowers. I looked at different types of carnivorous plants. How carnivorous plants feed themselves, and grow. How vines attached themselves to things. It was very scientific. We weren't just stabbing in the dark and making a monster. From the very beginning, we were playing the botanist. Throughout the whole thing, we ended up with a plant that does actually exist.

It's like the pumpkin plant we had in our back yard. It went crazy.

Carter Smith: Yeah, pumpkin plants and squashes were a huge inspiration. Their growth patterns, and even the texture of their stalks, were a big inspiration for the vine.

The Pumpkin vines would reach out and literally grab onto things as if it were a hand reaching out.

Carter Smith: And it strangles stuff. It grows so fast, too. In twenty-four hours those things can grow at least three feet.

I've heard that this film doesn't cut back on the gore. At all.

Carter Smith: You definitely heard right. It deals with some pretty intense stuff. These kids are forced to make decisions that no one should have to make. In keeping with this idea of a world where everything is so realistic, we shot everything and cut it together in such a way that it isn't about jumping out and saying, "Boo!" It's a film that treats the violence very realistically and lets the violence happen in real time. It doesn't quiet let the audience find a comfort zone. It's not something they have seen before. It is pretty confrontational.

We always see these stories of Spring Breakers going to Cancun, heading down to Mexico, and running into some sort of trouble. And they disappear. They never come back. Did you look at this story as a twisted take on those sort of Urban Legends that you always hear about?

Carter Smith: There is something about American kids on vacation. There is a certain arrogance, and a sense of "nothing can happen to me". It is proven over and over again that shit does happen. It might not be a parasitic flesh-eating vine. It could be something else. There is something about the fearlessness of those kids that are on spring break and on vacation. It does play into that idea.

I don't have a lot of friends that read a lot of books, but for whatever reason, this is one book that almost everyone I know has read or knows of. Do you feel any extra pressure with this film to get it right? Because so many people love it?

Carter Smith: Yeah. The fans are great. When people love the book, they really love the book. I'm a fan of the book. I read the book before I read the script. So I came into this as a huge fan. One of the things we really had going for us was that Scott Smith wrote the script as well. So, the script stays very true to the spirit and tone of the book. There wasn't any sort of push from any direction. From the studio, to the producers, or anyone, to try and change it into something else. We tweaked stuff enough that it will still be a new and exciting story for people that are familiar with the book. The tone of it, and the tenor of it are very much the same though.

So weren't aren't any major changes made to it? I heard there were a couple of slight changes for suspense reasons. Is that accurate?

Carter Smith: There wasn't anything major. We scaled back on the whole talking of the vine. I think that was one area where I felt it would be very difficult to keep ahold of an audience if it was as developed as it was in the book. We have taken liberties. Some of the things that happen with certain characters now happen to other people in the book. But it is exacting in tone and the type of story we are trying to present.

Did Scott's involvement in the project every go past the screenwriting phase?

Carter Smith: No. He wasn't on set. At a certain point towards the end of preproduction, right as we were nearing that process, he said, "Listen. This is your movie now. I trust you. You are going to do a great job. You tell the story the way that you want to tell it. This is now your baby." It was the best thing to hear. He had been so involved, and it meant a lot to get that blessing and to know that he trusted me with his story. That certainly did mean a lot to me. So that was great.

Well, his first novel got turned into a great movie with Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan. Having it all go right the first time probably made him a little less cautious about turning his story over to someone else.

Carter Smith: Yeah, exactly.

What was it about the novel that made you, personally, want to tackle this project and bring it to the screen?

Carter Smith: I read the book and I fell in love with the characters. But it was when I actually read the script that I was like, "This is something that I have to do." I had been reading a ton of scripts. And it is overwhelming how the majority of them are really bad. When something like this lands in your lap, and it jumps off the page? You have no idea how great it is. Even with me, having just read the book, I was riveted the whole time. The characters are so realistic and believable. It is a really scary, scary movie. In the script, when I got to the amputation scene, I said, "I have to do this!" I would do anything to get this job.

I've talked to some people that have seen that scene, and they said that they couldn't watch it. They literally had to turn away.

Carter Smith: Yeah.

Is that one of the biggest scares in the film?

Carter Smith: Um, no...It is definitely a scene that people will talk about. But I actually think there are other scenes that are equally, if not more, disturbing. There is something about the reality of it. There are no monsters involved with the leg amputation scene. It is two guys having to perform an amputation with nothing more than a rusty hunting knife and a rock. That is pretty intense.

Yeah it is. Now, when you got done reading the book, or rather the screenplay, did you put it away and then think back on it, and think of something that you thought was missing?

Carter Smith: I was in a situation were after I read the book, like there days later, I literally got the screenplay sent to me. It happened by chance like that. One of the things that I brought to the film was that in the book, these guys are stuck on a hill. It is called The Ruins, but it is always basically described as a big hill. In the film, one of the things we actually did was make it an ancient Mayan ruin that they are trapped on. They are on the top of it. That was something that I brought to it. I thought of that immediately, and everyone else agreed, "Ahhh, God! What a great idea. I can't believe no one else thought of this." That was a pretty major thing that we changed from the book.

Where did you guys shoot the film?

Carter Smith: We were in Queensland, Australia.

How was that experience?

Carter Smith: We were shooting in the winter in Australia. We were shooting pretty much everything outdoors, dealing with natural light, so we had some pretty short days to deal with. Other than that, it was a great place to work.

The book has a pretty nihilistic ending. I'm pretty sure you are sticking to that. Right?

Carter Smith: It is not necessarily the same as the book. But we definitely kept the tone of the book as far as the end of the story goes.

I know that the end of the book, when translated to the screen, might make it look as if you are setting this up as a sequel. But that's not really the case, is it?

Carter Smith: We are just trying to tell a story that has an ending that fits with the movie it is a part of. Audiences are so jaded, they thing that everything is set up for a sequel. You know, you can't escape that. It's about telling the best story from beginning to end. It needs to be one cohesive story.

In the trailer that is available now, there are a lot of scenes that have the plants growing through human flesh. Is a lot of that CGI, or did you have actual wires going up through fake skin?

Carter Smith: Our approach to the visual effects stuff was mixing the practical with the CGI, completely. We did that so your eyes never become quite adjusted to it. The nature of mixing up things like that keeps you guessing, and you never become comfortable with that. You can't ever assume what is happening. As much as possible, it was a mix.

About your cast, did you cast as to what you saw in the book, or did you cast as to what you saw in the actors that were coming in for it?

Carter Smith: I was always looking for actors that could bring a true sense of reality to the part. In doing a film like this with such a fantastical element, I needed people to get around the story. It needed to be very believable. In these actors, they are all so talented and genuine. They disappeared into the characters. Which was a luxury for me. From the first week of shooting, I knew that I had made the absolute most perfect casting choices. I was so happy with them.

A lot of horror films have underlying messages about what is going on in society. I'm wondering what you feel the message here is?

Carter Smith: There is obviously a man versus nature undercurrent that sort of happens. Nature strikes back. This is about the struggle for power. One of the things that is great about this film is that it is not wrapped up in big messages. It really becomes about these five characters. And the journey that they have to go through. That is what I found most fascinating. Watching and documenting these characters that break down and slip into survival mode. And sort of become these different creatures just through the nature of the circumstances that they are forced into. That is what I found fascinating.

I have time for one last question. What do you have coming up after this?

Carter Smith: I'm taking a break. But there are a couple of projects that I am working on. There is a film called Come Closer, which is a thriller that I am doing at Miramax. Then there is a movie called Troll, which is a really dark and twisted adult fairytale.

Ah, I have read about that one. Just to make it clear to people, that is not a remake of the old 80s film.

Carter Smith: No, it is from a Finnish book by Johanna Sinisalo. It is a really dark and twisted merging of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Lolita.

The Ruins opens April 4th, 2008.

B. Alan Orange