Letting it get under your skin doesn’t sound so bad once it gets inside your head.
Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are best friends vacationing in Cancun with their boyfriends Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore). As the days wind down before returning home, the four are invited by a tourist named Mathias (Joe Anderson) and his friend Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas) to visit a local archaeological dig that his brother is working at with a lady archaeologist. The group sets out together to the remote location “off the beaten path” and arrive at an ancient Mayan temple covered in vines, but none of them could have imagined a worse ending to their happy vacation.
The Ruins intentionally feels like a typical setup for cinematic trouble; happy and beautiful early twenty-somethings with their entire lives ahead of them and no real sense of their own mortality take an unnecessary chance and wind up in mortal danger. What happens over the course of the film is not only a hard lesson learned but a far more dramatic turn than this genre usually inspires. Fans of the book will notice the character switches and added action, but the core of both stories is the enduring of terror that someone feels when they realize that death is lurking nearby and needs only to wait. For these young adults, that realization is only the first of the horrors they’ll endure.
While a terrifying tale is something we all enjoy around here, horror films also require a bit of exposition. In keeping with the initially-misleading plot, viewers are treated to a little nudity and implied sexual content early on, because it sets the benchmark for how far and how depraved things get by the film’s ending. Equally intriguing are the possibilities of what’s going on, such as who built the temple, what more may be found inside, and how long of such horrors have gone on. Happily (although not for our heroes), none of these are answered, meaning that each new revelation is a surprise in waiting. Of course, The Ruins could spawn another half-dozen sequels just answering those questions, but for this first installment, the mystery is wisely relegated to our imaginations.
The ending, unfortunately, detracts from the drama in much the same way that the Americanized version of The Decent reportedly veered, and it does so in a way that undermines the film as it abruptly ends. It’s nice to see that there are still a few undiscovered Mayan temples south of the border that aren’t overrun with vampires from dusk till dawn, but The Ruins definitely redefines the term “bloodsuckers” for a whole new generation.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)