Worst. Vacation. Ever.
Good afternoon, friends and foes! I’m back again with another book review. It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these because… it’s been a while since I finished a book. Between a string of DNF’s and a brief obsession with trying to finish my current work in progress (spoiler alert: I did not finish it), I just wasn’t in the reading mood.
Did The Ruins improve my reading mood? …The short answer is no. Let me explain!
Scott Smith has only written two novels; 1993’s A Simple Plan and 2006’s The Ruins. He’s also written a handful of short stories and screenplays (including the screenplay for the film adaptation of The Ruins!) and he’s the showrunner of Amazon TV’s The Peripheral. But enough about him.
Let’s talk about The Ruins. I picked up this book because I was going to watch the film version around Halloween and, as a serial enjoyer of the novel more than the film, I wanted to read the book first. As it turns out, I never even watched the film because I didn’t care to see an adaptation of this book. Not because it was bad. Just because I’m too squeamish and I didn’t feel like trying not to barf for an hour and a half.
What’s interesting about the film adaptation is that Smith sold the film rights before he even finished the novel! According to The Miami Herald, “Smith was two-thirds done with the book when Ben Stiller’s production company, Red Hour Films, bought the screen rights based on an outline. ‘They told me they wanted me to write the screenplay, too,’ Smith says. ‘So while I was writing the last third of the book, I already knew I’d be adapting it for the movies.'” It currently has a 48% on rotten tomatoes and has several reviews citing too much gore, not enough plot.
The novel follows a group of four friends on a vacation to Mexico with intentions of lounging on the beach and getting drunk. Eventually they befriend some fellow travelers and all seems right in the world. Until one of their new friends goes missing. They make the keynote horror mistake of venturing into the Mexico wilderness to look for him and… well, it’s all downhill from there. Actually, uphill. Literally. They get stuck on a hill.
Basically, there’s a hill covered in gorgeous green vines that is (allegedly) the site of an archaeological dig where the missing traveler is said to have gone. But when the tourists step onto the hill, the indigenous people make sure they do not escape. Threatened with arrows and guns, the tourists have no choice but to climb the hill. They don’t know why the indigenous population is so keen on making sure they don’t leave the hill, but they’re about to find out.
No spoilers! But I will say this; if you are not a fan of gore, this book is not for you. It’s a slow start (slow all the way through, actually), but when the evil of the hill starts to have its way with the tourists it’s just a disgusting mess.
My thoughts on The Ruins are pretty simple. I’ve summed them up with the below points:
Stephen King blurbed it (and Smith’s other novel) and sang its praises. This is not surprising, as The Ruins reads super similar to a Stephen King book. Which, of course, is not a bad thing per-say. It’s just (in my HUMBLE opinion) an unmistakable similarity).
There are no chapters, just separated passages as the tourists’ POV’s cycle through. I found this pretty disorienting and a little hard to keep track of each tourist’s distinct personality, but it also made the book a faster read than I anticipated. I was tricked into waiting for the next chapter break to stop reading when – SURPRISE!- there wasn’t one.
There are too many mentions of (pardon my language) peeing! It became so distracting while reading. There were upwards of a dozen mentions of going to the bathroom in the first 50 pages alone. And it just keeps coming up again and again and again. I guess there are two ways to write survival horror in regard to bathrooms; either address the fact that characters have to do it and add to the discomfort / disgusting atmosphere, OR not mention it at all or in passing (i.e. “they dug a latrine” and that’s the last you hear of it). It was actually distracting. Which reminds me a lot of Stephen King.
All in all, I thought the book was a gross survival horror read that has pretty well stood the test of time since its publication over fifteen years ago. I can see why horror fans appreciate Smith’s slow-burn (like, super slow-burn…) horror. He paints such a dour and hopeless picture of these clueless tourists that asks the impossible question; would you venture into the Mexico jungle to search for a traveler you’ve only known for a few days, having only minimal supplies and no idea how to navigate or speak the language? And, once in the jungle, would you drink your own pee?
2 stars overall, 3 stars on the scare scale.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.