8 Rated Books Book Reviews Book to Movie

From the Page to the Screen: The Ruins

Title: The Ruins

Novel by Scott Smith

Movie directed by Carter Smith; screenplay by Scott Smith; starring Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, and Laura Ramsey

Last Friday, the film adaptation of Scott Smith’s second novel, The Ruins, hit theaters. I had read this book when it came out in 2006 and found it truly haunting. Naturally, I lined up to see the movie come opening weekend!

The Ruins is only Scott Smith’s second book. His first novel, A Simple Plan, was a much ballyhooed work—and for good reason. Mr. Smith stormed on the literary scene with a successful, haunting tale of greed, paranoia and depravity back in 1993 with A Simple Plan, which was later adapted very successfully into a movie will the all-star cast of Bill Paxton, Holly Hunter and Billy Bob Thornton. After going over a decade with no new work, his 2006 novel The Ruins was long overdue, and perhaps received harsher criticism than it deserved.

The novel follows a group of twenty-somethings on an extended, post-undergraduate vacation in Mexico. Two American couples—Eric and Stacy, and Jeff and Amy—enjoy long days lounging by the pool and on the beach, drinking tons of tequila and cerveza, basically just being young, beautiful and free. They couples meet up with a German twenty-something, Mathias, and three crazy Greeks at the hotel. After hitting it off together, Mathias asks if the group wants to go on a day trip with him to meet with his MIA brother Heinrich, who has taken off to a dig site with his new archaeologist lover. At the urging of Jeff (med school bound after the vacation) to “get some culture”, the group agrees and they set off for the hidden ruins, armed only with a vague map left by Heinrich, a few snacks, and a bottle of tequila. The site is in the heart of a Yucatan rainforest, and very isolated—when they ask a taxi to take them to the place on the map, the driver remarks that it is a bad place (red flags should be going up here).

In any case, they make it. Hiking through the jungle, they uncover a hidden trail that leads to the site of the ruins—a large stone step pyramid covered in a tick, leafy vine and dotted by bright red flowers. A yellow tent flaps in the breeze at the top, and there is an excavation well dipping into the site…but no sign of the dig team, or Heinrich. Some local Mayans from a nearby village storm onto the scene, speaking in a dialect no one can understand, and brandishing guns and arrows. Amy, entranced, tries to capture the scene through the lens of her camera…she takes a step back…and another…and suddenly the yelling is even louder. The natives are incensed, and force the couples and Mathias back, to climb up the pyramid—making their point very clear by shooting the one Greek who made it out with them in the head.

What unfolds for the remaining survivors is terrifying. The Mayans won’t let the stranded tourists leave—and something very wrong is happening on the pyramid. This is not a happy tale, but how many horror stories are? With nothing but terror and death awaiting them, the worst qualities in each person surface. In his signature style, Mr. Smith captures these highly flawed, very human characters in a larger than life situation and lays bare what ugliness lurks in all of us, and what people will do when pushed to the edge of sanity.

The American tourists run into problems atop the ruins

The movie adaptation did not disappoint. After reading The Ruins, I actually discussed with my boyfriend how I felt this book would make an even better movie—lo and behold, a few years later, my wishes were answered. The movie follows the book’s plot faithfully, although it does make some changes with characters and inverts some of the circumstances that occur—and also changes the ending.

From critic and user reviews around the web, The Ruins seems to have disappointed, garnering only a 66% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a miserable C+ rating at Yahoo.

I have to respectfully disagree with these negative reviews. The Ruins is, as Scott Smith wrote it, a horror story about humans. There is gore and there are some disturbing sequences (don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll thow out one example—the amputation of Mathais’ legs immediately comes to mind)—but this isn’t just some stupid, pretty-people-get-killed slasher flick. There is an elegance to the gore in this film—it doesn’t feel gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous (*AHEM* Mr. Eli Roth and your complete lack of subtlety or style). Early in the movie there is some nudity, as you see the beautiful Stacy getting dressed—which initially seems superfluous…but later this image is contrasted sharply with the horrors she undergoes both physically and psychologically—and it is a lingering comparison.

Reading other reviews online, many writers site the “monster” as being stupid. To this I say, HOGWASH. The monster is original, and terrifying. One user review actually recommended the craptastic turdfest that was the 2006 film Turistas over this movie.

The Ruins is a rare find in a film genre that is increasingly cluttered with artless, soulless gorefests (Hostel) and hollow splatter franchises (The Saw legacy). Every actor in The Ruins gave an outstanding, believable performance. I felt the film was brilliantly cast taking younger, less known names with considerable talent and surprising experience—Jonathan Tucker (of The Virgin Suicides and Hostage), Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Pride and Prejudice and most recently Into the Wild), Shawn Ashmore (from the X-Men movies), and with promising newcomer Laura Ramsey (who I loved in She’s the Man, also in Lords of Dogtown). Comparing this to the bland pretty actors from another recent horror release, Cloverfield, I cannot stress enough how overjoyed I am with the casting for this film.

(From R to L) Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Laura Ramsey, and Shawn Ashmore give solid performances

The direction was spot on—not indulging in any cheap thrills or gratuitous camera work—and the visuals were perfection. Not to mention the screenplay adaptation, written by Scott Smith himself, managed to capture all the feeling and atmosphere from the novel, but successfully twisted a more marketable (read: less bleak) ending. Not surprising considering Mr. Smith’s experience with the successful adaptation of A Simple Plan.

I highly encourage everyone to see the movie. Yes—this is another rare instance where the film surpassed the book (in my opinion, of course)!


Book: 8 Excellent

Movie: 10 Perfection. It is a rare treat indeed to find a horror film of this caliber. My first 10 of the year! You want something terrifying and original? Go watch this movie.

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  • Mollie
    April 10, 2008 at 11:53 am

    I was wondering if this movie was based off the book. The book cover is memorable and I recalled it from when I worked at the public library. I was going to look it up, but now I know.

    Great review. I’ll definitely have to catch this movie. I love horror movies but I have to agree with the pathetic horror movies out now-a-days. Most recently The Hills Have Eyes franchise which I hate if for no other reason than the gratuitous rape scenes.Guh.

    Then I watched The Hitcher the other day on HBO on Demand. I really thought the look of the movie was amazing but I kept waiting for some explanation as to why this guy was the way he was. The complete lack of any explanation just had me thinking…MEH. I know that sometimes nutjobs are just that….nuts and there is no rhyme or reason behind their actions but I felt that the movie was just lacking. I think an explanation of why The Hitcher was the way he was would have helped the movie as a whole.

    But I digress. I’ll have to try and talk one of my friends into seeing the movie.

    By the way I LOVE this Book/Movie comparison. I did one post on it awhile back but nothing as in depth and detailed as ya’ll’s. Lubs it.

  • Thea
    April 10, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks Mollie! *blushes*

    I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to horror movies–I will watch anything. ANYTHING. And I am pretty forgiving too. I agree that The Hills Have Eyes is a tough one to stomach–but despite that I have to admit that I have admiration for Alexadre Aja (the director) and how..unflinching his films are (well, to be fair I’ve only seen his THHE and High Tension). I even saw THHE 2, which was a complete waste of time (HBO On Demand FTW! :p ).

    Then there are the Hostel movies and the Saw movies that are completely devoid of any style or substance, and how these enterprises can churn out the same goreporn year after year…well, it’s disappointing.

    The Hitcher! Hee. I saw that one on cable as well. A fun mindless kind of thriller, and I totally get where you are coming from on wanting a bit more explanation.

    Definitely, go check out The Ruins! There’s something about the simple, brutal honesty of Scott Smith’s work (both in writing, and translated on screen) that wins you over.

    But be warned–the film IS gory. But in a way that makes sense…if that makes any sense? It creeps; it lingers.

    Ok, I think I’ll stop blabbing now. 🙂

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