Fox Atomic
John Stockwell/United States 2006

Hollywood of late seems to be consumed with first-world guilt. Recent films Babel, Syriana and Hostel have increasingly reflected the fear that decades of swaggering American dominance and wealth may be coming back to bite us in our collective ass. And while the real prospect of another homeland attack is frightening enough, what could be worse than targeting Americans when they are at their most naive and vulnerable – specifically, as tourists in an unfamiliar country, without money and unable to communicate?

Turistas taps into this fear. It’s actually a much better film than it deserves to be, considering that it blatantly steals Hostel’s premise. Alex (Josh Duhamel), his sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and her best friend Amy (Beau Garrett) are on their first trip abroad to Brazil to partake in untamed wilderness and off-road adventures. After their bus trip ends with a crash in which – miraculously – no one gets hurt, the three are told that the next bus will be along in 10 hours. Bea manages to salvage their luggage and takes out her camera to photograph a local boy. The boy’s father becomes hysterical. Fellow traveler Pru (Melissa George) happens to speak Portuguese and steps in to defuse the situation. Apparently, several ill American tourists have been charged with kidnapping Brazilian children in order to steal their organs. Soon, the group acquires Finn (Desmond Askew) and Liam (Max Brown), who have come to Brazil expressly to search for Gisele look-alikes that they can take back to England. Finally, they all head to a nearby cabana to drink and party until they can catch the next bus. The next morning they wake up on the beach robbed of all their personal belongings. This begins a terrifying journey to escape a vengeful anti-American doctor (played superbly by Miguel Lunardi) and return home.

This is where any comparisons to Hostel end. Turistas has been somewhat mis-marketed as a straight horror film in order to benefit from Hostel’s success. In actuality it is as much a horror flick as an action/thriller hybrid that stands on its own as a solid, suspenseful picture. The narrative briefly critiques the exploitative nature of American tourism – sexual and otherwise – but it doesn’t linger there for very long. At times the extended shots of the lush jungles, pristine beaches and beautiful women revel in the very romanticization of the global south as an exotic hedonistic paradise which the film later disavows. However, it is much more sympathetic to the locals than either Hostel or its other paranoid, survivalist precursor, Deliverance.

The main drawback of Turistas is its predictability. In accordance with all recent horror films the cast is comprised of perpetually gorgeous and vaguely familiar TV actors who remain close to naked for the duration of the film. At one point a female character who is already wearing a scandalously low cut sundress actually says, “Oh, I forgot my bikini top in Rio. Does anyone mind if I go topless?” Really, who writes this stuff? And some of the characters are so peripheral and one-dimensional they might as well have bulls-eyes on their heads. While Turistas definitely delivers the gory goods in one particular scene, it really works best in action mode. Director John Stockwell, best known for his surfer action film Into the Blue, is excellent at maximizing the thrills as the victims run through the jungles or are chased through claustrophobic underwater caves. But this is a scene that admittedly goes on for a little while too long.

Beautiful cinematography, tight editing, and a rousing soundtrack of Brazilian rap music contribute to the film’s tension and captures both the country’s vitality and volatility. Overall, Turistas is a surprisingly well-made thriller about the real and perceived dangers of bringing a distinctly American sense of security and invulnerability abroad.

© 2006 Robyn Citizen. All rights reserved.

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