Book #16: The Ruins

About halfway through Scott Smith's second novel The Ruins (coming to theaters April 4th!) the band of young, attractive people trapped on the hill (more on this later) talk about what would happen if their current situation were made into a movie. I think this is interesting because all indications from the trailer to the film point to a reasonable facsimile of this discussion, while the novel makes every attempt to subvert the reader's expectations.

This is only Scott Smith's second book (after the 1994 A Simple Plan, also made into a movie), a straight up horror story that manages to throw a few twists into a plot that feels like it was made to be turned into a Kevin Williamson teen horror flick. That it defies the conventions typically found in films like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and FINAL DESTINATION and manages to actually provide some scares makes this a pleasant surprise that, true to the promise many horror novels make, was hard to put down.

In case you haven't seen the trailer for the film (provided here), four friends vacationing in Mexico meet up with a young German tourist whose brother has disappeared, supposedly going into the jungle to join a young woman on an archaeological dig at some ruins. When they arrive they find that the ruins are overrun with bizarre sentient vines that not only crave human flesh, but apparently have a wicked intellect to boot. Smith makes the danger even more palpable by having the ruins guarded by Mayans from the nearby village. In an attempt to prohibit the spread of the vines (for reasons explained in the books the vines are confined to the area immediately around the ruins), anyone who crosses the line is not allowed to leave, for fear they'll carry the vines with them. So the protagonists are forced to stay on the hill and find a way to survive with little to no food or water, and monster vines that have a nasty habit of invading open wounds...

There's plenty of nasty images and scenes to keep gore hounds at bay, but the real terror comes from the dynamics of the group. Accusations and jealousies finally get the better of people, and the moments when you see the devastation coming, not from the vines but from the stupidity of our "heroes" is what makes the novel such fun to read. And Smith uses the great set up of forecasting who will dies and when and then completely turning it on its head.

Short (even at 500 pages) and sweet with a good ending, this was for me the definition of a "page turner."