Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith


Trapped in the Mexican jungle, a group of friends stumble upon a creeping horror unlike anything they could ever imagine.

Two young couples are on a lazy Mexican vacation–sun-drenched days, drunken nights, making friends with fellow tourists. When the brother of one of those friends disappears, they decide to venture into the jungle to look for him. What started out as a fun day-trip slowly spirals into a nightmare when they find an ancient ruins site . . . and the terrifying presence that lurks there.

The Ruins by Scott Smith.  Published by Vintage Books, 2006.  508 pages.  Read this as part of the August 2018 group read from the Goodreads horror group Horror Aficionados. Also read this as part of the Goodreads Summer Challenge for August- Stranded: Read a book that takes place on an island or in which the characters find themselves stranded, and Lucky to have you: Read a book that you picked up at a library sale or thrift store. 

Wow.  Like, I don’t even know where to start with this book.  I will try to get my thoughts in order and give a coherent enough of a review.  There was a lot going on with this book.

First, I need to start off with this- this book was pretty damn scary.   Now, I’ve been reading and watching horror since I was a wee little babe, and now days it takes a LOT to scary me.  I can’t even remember the last book or movie that scared me.  Sure, there have been stories where I have a shiver or two, or where I snuggle up under the blanket.  But nothing that has really given me the big scares.  Ok, so, The Ruins…. totally, 100%, legit scary.  And not just one type of scare, either.  It was a multi-level scare situation going on.  Real life horror and then the creature horror.

The real life horror hit you from every angle.  Each of the main characters had some issues about themselves.  Underlying fears of not doing good enough, fear of not being in control, fear of not knowing who you really are, fear of not speaking up, fear of not fitting in. Fear of stepping out of your comfort zone.  The list is long if you really want to dig in to each of the 4 main characters- Jeff, Amy, Eric and Stacy. The book flips back and forth between perspectives from each main character, sometimes seeing the same event but from different eyes. With 500 plus pages, you really get to know the inner thoughts and feelings of these characters.   Fear of death was a big topic as the characters situation became more and more dire.  Mr. Smith brought death right on up to these characters, slapping them in the face with it and we got to see how each one dealt with it,  or in some cases, didn’t deal with it.  It was very interesting to see how everyone handled things differently and it felt very realistic.  I mean, the shit seriously hits the fan, big time and it simply broke some people.  Others could only deal with it through denial or disconnect.  It felt like a very authentic view of what a regular person would go through in a horrible situation like this.

Think of this situation:  You and your friends get stranded in a jungle, not much food or water, a poorly drawn map, no guide.  Then one of the people in the group gets so badly injured, needing a hospital ASAP.  But you can’t get out of the jungle.  You can’t call anyone.  How can you help? What can you do?

As the minutes tick away into hours, things just get progressively worse for the group.  The way this book was written, it felt so real.  You felt like you were in this horrible no win situation right there with these characters.  The whole time you are reading, in the back of your head there is a tiny voice that keeps asking you “How fast would you lose hope if you where in that situation?” and deep down you are kind of scared of the answer you might have.   You want to dislike the characters, claiming they were being stupid or careless or complacent.  But then you realize, they are just being human. They didn’t know.  They are Joe and Jane average.  They had no idea that things would go south so quick, and once it did, they didn’t know how to handle it.   We all like to pretend that we know what we are doing and that we can handle anything, but if we had to live through the stuff that went on in this book, how would you REALLY handle this? I know I would have sucked at this big time!  I would have had zero clue on survival skills for this kind of situation and probably would have done just as poorly as the people in the book.

As if the real life horror wasn’t scary enough, Mr. Smith throws in the creature ( I guess it was a creature?? Not really sure how to categorize the “killer” without it being a spoiler) horror.  Holy crap.  The author took something so non-threatening and made it creepy as hell!  I’m trying not to give spoilers for those of you who don’t already know about the THING in The Ruins, but it is difficult.  My words fail at trying to explain just how creepy this was.  Words….. are just…. failing.  Derp.  It is creeping, and slithering, and horrible and hungry.  Always so hungry.  And it was very fun to watch this creature part of the story unfold.  A couple of big twists that are pretty OMFG! :O  I was very happy with the creature side of the story.  In someone else’s hands, this story could have easily become very B-movie-ish (not that there is anything wrong with that!), but Mr. Smith did a pretty amazing job at making it feel very real.  I know I definitely don’t want to go wandering in a jungle any time soon.  Hell, I’m not even sure I want to go wander around in my own garden after The Ruins!

Whether it is real life horror, or creature horror, this book gets your heart rate up and running.  The tension just keeps going up and up and you never get a break from it.  All the way to the last page, it feels like your heart is about to jump out of your chest.  The atmosphere was so terrifying in it’s isolation  and an over all creepy sensation, adding even more tension.  You begin to feel the tension, panic and fear just as much as the characters of the book.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was easy to see why it is on so many “Best Horror Book” lists.  I agree 100% that it is one of the best horror books I’ve read in a while.  500 pages and I flew right through it.  Easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.  The Ruins grabs you from the start and doesn’t even let you go after you finish the book.  I finished it 4 days ago and I still can’t stop thinking of it.  I’m even looking forward to re-reading it already. 😮  There was so much to enjoy,  I can’t even think of anything right off hand that I would complain about.

Hands down I would recommend this book to everyone.  I don’t even care if you don’t like horror that much.  This book is one to read.  Horror and creature feature fans for sure need to read this.  Bottom line – READ. THIS. BOOK. That is all.

The Ruins is filled with high tension and lots of scares.  It may be a big book but you will not want to put it down.   It is interesting to watch people dealing with fear in different ways and it is easy to relate. Very creepy atmosphere and is a must read.



Bonus review:  The Ruins.  1 hour 30 mins.  2008.  Rated R.  Directed by Carter Smith.  Screenplay by Scott Smith.   Tagline:  Horror has evolved

*Slight spoiler alerts below!! *



The movie came out a few years after the novel and the screenplay was even written by the author of the book.  Yay!

I must be a masochist… I hate when books are turned into movies because they get changed up so much, yet I keep watching those sort of movies anyways! >.<

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the movie.  The movie followed along with the book pretty closely, actually.   The plot was the same.  The characters, for the most part, were the same as well.   For some reason, certain qualities of the characters, and their outcomes were switched around to different characters.  Like Mathias was the one who fell in the hole instead of Pablo.  Or Stacy was the one who cut her knee instead of Eric.  I didn’t really understand why things like that were switched between characters.  Something else about the character change was Stacy.  In the book she is very daydreamy and spacey, but in the movie she wasn’t like that at all.  The spacey-ness of Stacy was a huge part of her character and what made her tick.  I’m not sure why it was changed to make her seem stronger.   Another big change between the book and movie was the actual ruins.  In the book, the ruins are an old mining shaft on a hill.  In the movie the ruins were a much more typical location you would associate with the word “ruins”- an ancient Mayan temple.  I guess I kind of see why that change was made.  It was strange to find out that the ruins were a mining location instead of ancient ruins.  Most of the other changes felt like they were just done because they needed to trim story up due to a time limit.

The movie was creepy, but without hearing the inner thoughts of the characters, it feels like you really lose a lot of what made the novel so terrifying in the first place.  The acting was decent, but the characters didn’t feel as well developed or as exspressive.  In the book they expressed much more fear and panic, where as in the movie they held their shit together pretty easy it seemed, and that felt unrealistic to the situation they were in.

I was enjoying the movie right up to the very end, when it fell apart.  The most unlikable character survives.   There is no way she would have lived, plus, how did she not spread the vines to everywhere she ran in the jungle?  Didn’t Amy just fuck the whole world now?  I mean…. they were quarantined on the temple for a reason! Now that she escaped, the vines would start growing, rapidly, everywhere…. so….. that’s the end? Seriously no follow up after she leaves the temple?  Worst. Ending. Ever.  Nobody should have survived OR if she was going to escape, show that she was NOT alright.  I’ve read that there were alternate endings that did indeed show the spread of the vines, but for whatever reason those endings were not used.  I bet it was test audiences fault. -.-  The movie was pretty good with an unsatisfactory ending.

The movie stayed 90% close to the book, with just a few small changes here or there and one or two big changes.  Over all the movie was entertaining, but the ending makes it just a good movie instead of a great movie.  *Sad trombone sound*



3 thoughts on “Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith

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