The Ruins (2008) – WTF Happened to This Adaptation?

The WTF Happened to This Adaptation series looks at the 2008 horror film The Ruins, based on a novel by Scott Smith

It’s always fun to discuss horror novels that AREN’T Stephen King. No knock on the monster from Maine, he’s the master of horror novels over the last, oh I don’t know, 50 years, for a reason but its nice to not have the show be solely dedicated to his adapted works. He says knowing that he makes the schedule and decides what books to cover. See you in May, Mr. King! Funnily enough, the man actually loved today’s subject to the degree that he called it one of 2006’s best horror novels, but more on that in a little bit. The Ruins (watch it HERE) was one of those hot properties by an author whose previous work was an instant success with critics, fans, and studio executives that put it to celluloid. The book came out and just two years later we were given a movie adaptation that had a lot of the original authors’ work in it, mostly because he wrote the screenplay too. While they came out two years apart and were both written by the same person, just how close do these two versions come to each other? Keep your vine cutting machete handy as we find out what happened to this adaptation.

The Movie

The Ruins is the 2008 horror film that was released on April 4th, 2008, by DreamWorks and Paramount as the production company and distributor. 2008 was an interesting year for horror with Zombie Strippers obviously being the highlight of the year. All joking aside, I was still at Blockbuster when that gem came in on the Thursday shipment. The Strangers is almost certainly the film with the longest legacy, but we also had Saw V and the American remakes of Rec with Quarantine, The Eye, and Shutter. Elsewhere we had Best Horror You Never Saw candidate Eden Lake, Mirrors, and great value Escape from New York flick Doomsday which is derivative but gives us some fun Bob Hoskins action so I can’t complain too much. In a lot of ways, The Ruins should have been one of the most commercially viable films of the year but boy, did it flop and flop hard making 22 million on its 25-million-dollar budget. It’s hard to say why here, too, as neither March nor April had a murderer’s row of releases in 2008. Maybe it just wasn’t a good time for cinema.

The movie was written by academy award nominee Scott Smith. His nomination was for adapted screenplay on the criminally underrated Sam Raimi non horror movie A Simple Plan. He has also written the Keanu Reeves vehicle Siberia and TV show The Peripheral. The Ruins was directed by Carter Smith, no relation, who also doesn’t have a ton to his name but did just come out with 2023’s The Passenger. In front of the camera talent is a lot more recognizable here with Jonathan Tucker, Jenna Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, and Joe Anderson leading the cast. Tucker is a great that guy actor that has similar intensity to a Ben Foster. My favorite work of his has to be from the final season of Justified but for horror fans he is also in Westworld, the 03 Texas Chainsaw remake, the Pulse remake, and a Masters of Horror episode. Malone has been around longer than you remember, showing up in Contact in 1997, and even though the Hunger Games series may be one of her biggest series, she’s been in a lot more. Donnie Darko, Sucker Punch, and The Neon Demon are her standout genre flicks but her list is quite long. Shawn Ashmore is of course Iceman in the early 2000s X-Men movies but the dude was in Animorphs. ANIMORPHS!. His portfolio also has awesome TV show The Following, underseen horror Frozen where they do NOT, in fact, build a snowman, and even video games like Quantum Break and Man of Medan. Laura Ramsey had quite the early 2000s with stuff like Lords of Dogtown and She’s the Man but also showed up in peak early 2000s horror like Venom and The Covenant. Finally Joe Anderson has been a constant screen presence for nearly 2 decades. He appeared in The Gray, Becoming Jane Austen, and Across the Universe but also genre takes like The Crazies remake, Horns, and the awesome Hannibal TV show. While the movie underperformed, it is easy to find streaming and has an unrated cut to find with an alternate ending too.

The Ruins

The Story

The Ruins is one of only two novels from, well, academy award nominee Scott Smith. His other novel was A Simple Plan that was adapted by Sam Raimi with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton. Growing up, he was a fan of stalwarts Clive Cussler and Stephen King as well as Ray Bradbury. He graduated from both Dartmouth and Colombia with master’s in writing and decided to take it up full time. While he only has the two novels, both of which got screenplay adaptations from him, he also has some short stories to his name and several other screenplays that we listed above. Writing The Ruins actually stalled a little bit as he wrote the screenplay for A Simple Plan. It got so bad that he wasn’t sure he was ever going to finish it but the movie rights were purchased even before it’s completion. That will certainly give you the motivation to complete a novel.

The book was released in the summer, July 18th, 2006, and became a huge hit. It was a big seller and was critically acclaimed, especially by the aforementioned Stephen King who called it one of the best horrors of the year and that it did for travel what Jaws did for going in the water. It’s a shame he only has these two wildly different works and I’d love to see him surprise us with another work. Either way, he has a great legacy to hold onto for future generations to discover. Especially big ol nerds like me who like to look at the differences between books and movies.

What is the same?

The Ruins follows friends Jeff, Amy, Stacey, and Eric are on a group vacation in Mexico where they run into a German tourist named Mathias who is looking for his brother Henrich. They are joined by another group member and end up at an archaeological dig where the locals chase them to the top after Amy steps on some seemingly innocuous vines while the local villagers make a perimeter and keep them stranded on the site. The group hears a cell phone coming from an opening that leads into a shaft and when they lower one of their group members, the rope breaks and they break their back. After a tense night, the group finds that vines have worked their way into one of their legs through a cut but also eaten away the legs of the person who broke their back all the way to the bones. Thet decide as a group to amputate both legs to try and stave off infection and give their friend a chance to live. The vines suffocate one of the group as another grows increasingly paranoid of the vines growing inside of them.

A couple of them travel down into the shaft to find the cellphone that they heard earlier but to their horror, it is the vines mimicking the sound to trap and kill them. the group member that has the vines inside them has one of the others remove them but then continues to dig them out on their own before attempting to be stopped. Driven crazy, they stab the person trying to help through the heart. They then ask to be mercy killed and are obliged by the remainder of the friends. One of the last remaining of the group is killed by the Mayans and we see a new group heading to the site to repeat the cycle again.

The Ruins (2008) – WTF Happened to This Adaptation?

What is different?

This is one of those cases of the original author probably wanting to mix things up a bit from page to screen. You know, for funsies. While the characters, for the most part, are the same, the events and order of things are a bit different. While there is a secondary group in both book and movie, the book has Pablo who is one of the Greek tourists while the movie has Dimitri who is Mathias’s friend from the start. The location is different too. The book posits the group on a vine covered hill that has a shaft in the middle while the movie moves the proceedings to a Mayan temple that serves the same purpose.

Dimitri is shot and killed early on in the movie while it is Pablo instead of Mathias that breaks his back in the book. In the movie it is Stacey that has the vines intrude into her body and the book has that fate slated for Eric. While there is a paralyzed party in both, Mathias dies earlier than Pablo in the book via suffocation. In the book, Amy is suffocated after getting drunk and Jeff is killed by the Mayans while trying to flee during a storm. Eric is stabbed by Stacey in the movie, but it is Mathias who is stabbed fatally by Eric in the novel. Certainly the biggest change is with the endings. The book see’s Stacey as the last of the group alive and with no food and no hope, she ends her life in the hope that she will be a slit wrist beacon lighthouse to ward off any on comers, especially the remaining friends that Pablo left a note for. The movie has two possibilities, the theatrical and alternate ending, both of which differ pretty wildly from the source material. Amy is the last remaining of the group and she escapes with the help of Jeff who sacrifices himself to the Mayan weapons. In one ending, Amy escapes and that’s the end of it. In the alternative ending, She ends up not surviving her encounter and some familiar vines end up on her gravestone.

Other than the novel being a bit more nihilistic and a downer, the vines intelligence and quite frankly their menace is leaned into a bit more in the book too. It is one long expression of terror with no chapters to break it up and is a lot longer than its cinema fantastique counterpart.


Sadly, the movie flopped and flopped badly. That’s a shame because I really enjoyed it and was equally excited when its unrated version came out on DVD at Blockbuster. It moves quickly and succinctly through its story; has all the earmarks of a good horror film and I personally think that its one of the better from the late 2000’s and that year specifically. The book is a well written and engrossing piece of fiction from an author that only has one very different novel to his name. I wont call it a tie so I’ll lean just a little bit towards the movie but this is an easy recommendation for both with the differences being fun and fresh. Seek them both out and regardless of which one you prefer, be careful on vacation and be on the look out for vines that may be more than they appear.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Adaptation? can be seen below. To see the other shows we have to offer, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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