Never since Cheech Marin's Born in East L.A. has a movie capitalized so effectively on the American fear of Mexicans.
It starts poolside at a Mexican resort, as the privileged twenty-something protagonists cower in fear of the filthy Mexican water that comprises the ice cubes in their margaritas. The characters are a standard assortment, horror-tropes as modular and bland as iPod accessories.
As we get to know these pretty people and their pretty problems, they meet a charming German tourist who knows about a Mayan ruin that isn't even in the guidebooks. He might as well have said, "I know of an isolated and spooky backdrop for the series of ingeniously squicky deaths that will happen at dramatically paced intervals." The Germans probably have a single eight-syllable word for that concept.
So there's just enough time to perform the requisite deathmark sexual act, and it's off into the backwoods. After a lot of unpleasant whining from the precious Americans, they arrive at a Mayan pyramid that's covered with a vine that bears a suspicious resemblance to marijuana. Up until this point The Ruins has had the vapid, carefree aesthetic of a Juicy Fruit commercial, but in the space of thirty seconds that's completely wiped away as the characters meet a group of Mexicans who are so Mexican that they don't even speak Spanish.
This is where we leave the trailer-established information and the squick begins.
Like all American horror flicks since Night of the Living Dead, The Ruins isn't so much about the monster that's chewing people up, than it is about small-group decision making. And why not? America is the country that popularized juries, caucuses, and town meetings.
This particular small group is dominated by the med student. It's fun to watch him as he approaches each new transformation of the human body with clinical dispassion. The movie's biggest disappointment is its failure to revel in this character.
The monster of The Ruins is not new. In fact it's the most hokey recurring monster in the speculative genres. But here we see it remade with twists and abilities reminiscent of a lost X-files episode. Just when you think you have this movie figured out, the monster does something totally unexpected.
Although high in gore and gratuitous boobs, The Ruins is ultimately remarkable for its failed attempt to transcend the formulas that constrain it. The Hollywood horror industry hangs about its neck like an anchor, forcing it to have bland, pretty actors when it deserves actual character development, and forcing glitzy CGI effects when it needs something ugly and mysterious.
Maybe I should have just read the book.