I knew nothing about this book, The Ruins, until I saw the trailer for the horror film adaptation in 2008. The trailer did a pretty good job of not revealing what the threat was to the attractive American tourists. So, I had no clue what I was in for when I sat down and watched this movie. I’m a sucker for horror movies, so it was a natural ticket sale. After seeing it in the theater, the friend that I went with just asked me “What the hell did you just make me watch?” I wasn’t sure how to reply. I knew that I enjoyed it, but its body horror and pacing would drive many away.
The basic story of the book and the film is that a group of travelers are vacationing in Mexico when they decide to go looking for one of their friend’s missing brother. They wind-up finding a Mayan village and stumble on the native’s forbidden land. It’s forbidden with good reason. Once they set foot on it, the Mayan’s won’t let them leave. What the gang doesn’t realize is that they are being quarantined because they are now infected. It doesn’t take long for them all to start dying one by one. The only thing left to wonder is if the infection, their sanity, or the elements will get them first.
The killer is pretty unique in this movie. It’s not a slasher or a more traditional movie monster. It’s an infection of sorts anyway. The tourists stepped onto soil populated by a killer flower. That might sound a little lame, but it’s actually quite terrifying. There are plenty of carnivorous plants in real life, but thankfully the one in this story is entirely fiction. It’s drawn to blood like regular plants are to sunlight. It can mimic sounds that it has heard to try and lure prey to it. It can also reproduce by leaving pieces of itself inside of its prey and consume it from the inside. The body horror really starts when the group of friends realizes that the enemy is inside some of them, and they want to get it out.
The movie changes some of the characters around, but mostly it is pretty faithful to the novel. Most of the deaths and horrible things happen the same way in both versions but just to different people and in a different order. The changes to the characters were made mainly to try to condense the story to fit a motion picture;s runtime. The book has the luxury of really drawing out the misery and the trials of the group of main characters. There is a severe lack of characterization in the movie, and it suffers because of it. The book’s biggest strength is the movie’s biggest weakness.
I can’t recommend the movie over the book. The book does such a great job of building tension while making all of itself characters relatable. While the film does do an excellent job with its visuals, the book does a better job of letting the reader imagine all the horror that it describes so well. I did enjoy the movie, and I think it is worth checking out to only a niche of horror movie fans. The book is the best version of this story hands down. It really grows on you.
Novel by Scott Smith
Publication Date: July 2006