As far as so-called “airport reads” go, The Ruins isn’t too bad actually. It is reasonably well-written stylistically, but it is seriously flawed in several ways. For starters, for a long stretch of the book it is very difficult distinguishing the characters from one another. But I suppose that’s what you get when you name one character Stacy and the other Amy. Beyond their stereotypical one-word character descriptions they also have no real personality or life of their own. (But this is a common complaint when it comes to the victims in slasher movies.)

SPOILER ALERT: The other big problem is the book’s “monster”: it is the mysterious vine growing all over the hill. Think the possessed weeds which rapes actress Ellen Sandweiss in The Evil Dead and you’ll have a good idea what to expect of The Ruins. The vine is somehow sentient and suffocates the victims in their sleep and “eats” them clean. Yup, the creature in The Ruins is a cannibalistic plant! As if this isn’t stretching credulity enough, author Smith pushes the envelope: not only is the plant killing them off one by one, but it is actually pretty intelligent! It can actually imitate voices and “talk”, which makes it the only English-speaking local our heroes come across in the entire book . . . The talking plant thing is a bit like in horror cheapie The Breed in which the killer dogs besieging our young American heroes prevent them from leaving by chewing the ropes mooring their water boat. It’ll make you go “yeah, right” aloud . . . END SPOILERS!

Despite its faults we still liked The Ruins better than The Da Vinci Code the most overrated “beach read” in the entire history of literature though . . . MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! The Ruins deviates from your standard slasher flick in that it is often more of a survival tale than anything else. Stuck on the hill without any food or water, the book has more in common with Cast Away (you know, the one with Tom Hanks stuck on the island) and Alive than, let’s say, Hostel or Friday the 13th. At one point the characters actually contemplate eating one of their number who has been killed by the vine! It also deviates from your standard horror movie recipe in that no one survives the ordeal. Yup, that’s right. One can just imagine cinema patrons standing for that sort of thing if they were unhappy with Cloverfield’s abrupt ending. No doubt the ending has undergone some major rewrites, which would be a pity since the ending in The Ruins is sort of refreshing in its own anti-climactic way. END SPOILERS!

So will The Ruins make for a good movie? Well, the “monster” is kinda silly and the whole “tourists under threat” thing is practically a subgenre onto itself. The truth is that while you’d be okay with having bought The Ruins at a discounted book sale, the odds are that you’d be happy with checking out a film adaptation of The Ruins on DVD one night as part of a triple bill instead of forking out the full price of a movie ticket for it one day.

Just don’t expect anything as compelling as A Simple Plan, the previous Smith novel to be made into a movie back in 1998 by, ironically, Evil Dead director Sam Raimi . . .


The Ruins
by Scott Smith

* * ½  

Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
Vintage; Reprint edition (July 31, 2007)




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