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The Ruins, by Simon Smith - a review

“The Ruins” is the story of a group of Europeans who arrive in a hostile alien environment where the rules are very different and survival is their primary challenge. It reminds me a little of a white couple who cycled across a war zone to prove that they would survive (protected presumably by their whiteness) but who were (surprise, surprise) killed on their journey. It is also reminiscent of “The Elementals” by Michael McDowell, where the threat faced, while deadly, is far from humanoid.

In summary, a group of holiday makers – some American, some Greek and one German meet on holiday in a Mexican beach resort. The German’s brother has gone missing but left behind a hand drawn map to Mayan ruins, and the friends agree to help retrieve the absent brother.

The most effective horror device, at least at first, is the difficulties of communication, both with each other and with the indigenous people they meet on their journey. When they reach the ruins this is echoed by the non-humunoid evil that delights in communicating with them and throwing all their secret shame back at them. The slyly intelligent, creeping horror they encounter seems inescapable and we witness each member of the group as they succumb to the various stages of grief, including denial and anger.

Most fall apart emotionally, and the ones who do not are presented as terrifying in their own ways. Their cold and analytical decision making seems sociopathic when compared to the emotional responses of the rest of the group, and again communication (or inability to communicate and make oneself understood) adds rich texture to the horror Smith portrays. It stands as a treatise on the loneliness of leadership and the tendency of people to prefer to follow rather than make difficult decisions that ultimately cost lives.

It’s a highly introspective read. We witness the internal struggles with greater force than the external ones. This is a unique horror story and, while not always completely successful, is powerful and haunting.

4.5/5 stars.

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