Horror/Survival Horror/Archaeological Horror
Published by Vintage (25th March 2008) first published 2006
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Four American tourists are on a Mexican vacation before two of them head off to Med school. It’s the dream vacation they never knew they needed, drunken nights, beach days, and making friends with other tourists along the way. When their new German friend, Mathias, comes to one of them expressing worry as his brother has disappeared with a girl he just met to an archaeological dig site, the group set out together, along with one of their new Greek friends, who speaks zero English, to find the missing brother. What they don’t count on is ending up at an ancient site, deep in the jungle, where a terrifying presence resides. What follows is a slow descent into madness as the most basic of human needs are ripped away from them and all they know how to do is try and survive to make it back home.
This book was made into a movie. I saw it a very long time ago, one night late on Foxtel. I have found many a brilliant movie that way, and this was one of them. I absolutely LOVE what I call Archaeological Horror, and it can be super hard to find because I don’t know that it’s actually a genre of it’s own, it’s sort of peppered through out the horror genre, but I absolutely love it and THIS IS ME PLEASE CALLING OUT FOR RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BOOKS THAT FIT THIS MADE UP GENRE BECAUSE IT’S ONE OF MY FAVOURITES!
When I first started reading it, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it as much as I hoped because the narration took a little bit to get used to for some reason. I’m not sure if it was a little stilted or what, but my fear was unfounded because it took next to no time to fall into this story and not be able to crawl back out. I knew the basic premise as I’d seen the movie already. Now, normally when there are movie adaptations of books, and I’ve seen the movie before reading the book, I don’t enjoy the book. I’m not sure if it’s because I already have a predisposition on how the story is meant to go or what it is. It happened with Adam Nevill’s The Ritual – I saw the movie first and then realised it was a book so read the book after, and honestly, I personally enjoyed the movie way more. ANYWAY! I ended up absolutely LOVING this book, given, I have not seen the movie in probably about ten years or something, so it was only vaguely remembered in the back of my mind. I do however have a copy of said movie and plan to watch it in the coming days.
The story opens up with the American friends on a Mexican vacation, we meet two couples, Jeff and Amy, Stacy and Eric. These four friends have also befriended a German tourist called Mathias and a trio of Greek tourist who don’t speak a lick of English and have given themselves the names of Don Quixote, Juan and Pablo. The character profiles are very quick to appear, Jeff is the planner and the pseudo leader, Amy is the worrier, Stacy is the airhead and Eric is the partier, Mathias is stoic, and the Greeks are just out for a bit of fun. So I guess you could say it’s the stereotypical new adult horror story cliché roles, but that’s okay. When Mathias’ brother takes off following a girl he just met to an archaeological dig, leaving a hand drawn map, you know it’s recipe for disaster. Jeff volunteers the group to go with Mathias, and even though Amy is having doubts about it, she relents and they all take off to some random point in the jungle to find the missing brother, and they all end up feeling upbeat about it, treating it as a day-trip adventure that they otherwise would not have had. Ending up somewhere that they aren’t meant to be – or at least you THINK they’re not meant to be….now I’m actually questioning myself…did they arrive at the right place and the archaeologists WERE there, when they’re not supposed to be? Mannnnn, this book!! I’m still reeling and I finished it like a week ago.
Smith does an absolutely brilliant job of character building, though the characters were cliched, from word go you know exactly what role they’re playing and I feel like he used this to his advantage as the story progressed. He did an absolutely brilliant job of creating the feeling of claustrophobia even though the story is set outside in the open air. The feeling of isolation due to the language barrier as the group arrives at the wrong ruins and the slow descent into madness that this brings is just spot on. Even though I knew the story, I still found myself absolutely glued to the page needing to know what happened next. Hoping against hope that at least one of them would make it out alive, because the feeling of hopelessness is real. I felt that in my bones. The deprivation of basic human necessities, such as a flushing toilet, running water and the ability to hunt and gather adds to the isolation and claustrophobia I feel.
While Smith used the stereotypical character types, the way the story played out is anything but stereotypical. I found myself shocked at different moments because, “hang on, this isn’t how this script is supposed to play out, that’s not what happens in a run of the mill horror” and I am here for it. Taking the formula that everyone knows and turning it on it’s head really left me floundering out in the middle of the freaking ocean with no hope of knowing which way land was. GAH! As I said, I know this story, I saw the movie, and while movie adaptations do take artistic license and change some stuff up, the basic story is still the same, and I was STILL shook at the turn of events.
Horror isn’t just about the gore or the jump scares, it’s about making you feel desolate, alone, isolate, claustrophobic and hopeless. It’s not just about the killer with the knife chasing you up the stairs when you should be running out the front door, it’s about making you see how easily a wrong decision can change your life for the worst, take away everything that you are so used to and depend on and seeing if you can still survive. I guess this genre could also be coined as survival horror?
While we learn quickly about why the group are trapped where they are, and as the book progresses we learn that not everything is what it seems, you will still be left with questions. We don’t know the how or the why surrounding the ruins. The characters themselves have theories, and that ending just set it up for round two, which I would have been super keen to see, hopefully garnering some more information about the how and the why. Come to think of it, I’d love a visitation to the time BEFORE this book, maybe delving into the history of it. But then I guess that’s the beauty of this kind of horror. We don’t question what’s going on and while we’re left wondering why this thing exists as it does, it doesn’t cloud the main plot of the story and us hoping that these people are going to make it out alive. I feel like it adds to the horror that we DON’T know the reason behind it all.
Man. I feel like I could ramble on about this book for ever. If you like horror, read the damn book., trust me. I’m not off to scour the internet for some fan theories about the why, and see if I can find anymore books that fit this sub genre of archaeological/survival horror. PLEASE IF YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS COMMENT THEM ON THIS THREAD!
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