So for no other reason than jotting some ideas down and killing some time, I’d thought I write a review of a book I read some months ago, The Ruins by Scott Smith. It’s quite a popular piece of work, judging by the fact that it has recently been made into a movie which I haven’t seen nor will choose to, as I felt it would be too easily butchered by those in Hollywood who would just as easily turn an intriguing psychological work of horror into one of those campy, contrived third-rate productions one would watch on the Sci-Fi channel Saturday morning while working out the kinks from a heavy night of boozing. You know the plot…group of intrepid, young, and virile post-adolescents take a trip to some cabin or remote wooded destination, start to get their groove on, so to speak, until they are disrupted by some awful mutated mecha-gecko content to play with their emotions just before it picks off the group one by one in a glorified gorefest.
That’s how close The Ruins can be modified into the above scenario. Thankfully, Smith does a pretty good job of making this story semi-believable, at least in terms of the human element. First and foremost, this is a horror story, set in an increasingly popular location for writers and directors alike, namely Central America (Mexico, specifically). Under the best of intentions, as well as a desire to adventure before their days of careerdom begin, our naive group of turistas soon find themselves in the jungle gradually wondering why it is they decided to do this thing they are doing.
Yes, there is a little bit of gore, but not in the way one would come to expect from such a tried storyline, and without a whole lot of action. The most captivating aspect of this story is the gradual decline of any positive outcome for the group (something which the members gradually come to realize), magnified by the similar psychological effect on each member. A sense of primal desperation is the underpinning force, guiding action vs. ethic in a moment-by-moment excruciating pace in which turning back is never an option.
My major problem with the work is the introduction of a particular plant that aids in the decline. A little disappointing, really, because I thought it was unnecessary and a little overboard. The more realistic option for me would have been to concentrate on the local village folk, whom Smith deliberately understates and therefore mystifies. It’s a similar device to Cormac McCarthy’s sparse use of language, character depth, and exposition of cause and effect; apart from the main characters, their silent behavior is more horrifying than the obvious villain.
I enjoyed the book. It is an elaborate step-by-step progression of bad choices and the consequent regret, neuroses, and paranoia derived from them.