Turistas (2006)

I picked up Turistas second hand while I was out trying to replace some movies I lost while moving. I’d heard of it before, but hadn’t seen it. The DVD cover claimed that Turistas was “a better and scarier film than Hostel” and that just cinched the deal.

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So, is Turistas better than Hostel?

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Ahahah. No.

On the surface, the two films have their share of similarities. Both follow the “idiot Americans in peril” storyline, while casting the poor natives firmly in the villainous role. Both of them feature some impressive gore effects, ill-considered medical treatment, and uneasy interpretations of capitalism (Hostel focused on the trade of bodies and Turistas more on the exploitation of third world countries in general).

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The scenery was beautiful, shot with an obvious appreciation for Brazil’s beaches and jungle. Unfortunately it lacked the sense of foreboding or quiet unease of Hostel, the film’s obvious inspiration. The gore simply did not match up to the precedent set by Hostel, despite what the DVD cover claimed.

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I found the tourist characters uninteresting, as is to be expected with this sort of film. The rest of the cast puts forth a good effort, but simply cannot rise above a script that leaves them completely uninteresting – and sometimes with contradictory motivations one scene to the next. Miguel Lunardi does his best to breath some life into the main villain, Zamora, but the script simply doesn’t give him enough to work with. Many of the unnamed extras struck me as having wonderful a camera presence, such as the father and his young daughter at the bus crash, but they sadly disappear after their introduction.

Turistas has some interesting ideas hidden within the story, but lacks a script powerful enough to match them. It would have been far more interesting to explore a world of extreme poverty and racial inequality from the perspective of the villains rather than telling the story of white tourists who lean….what, exactly, from their ordeals?

I don’t know. The movie doesn’t seem to, either. Turistas ends with the survivors staring pensively out a plane window, having survived a terrible ordeal and intending to do exactly nothing about the situation that created it. And what did we learn from this?

Don’t buy cheap bus tickets, folks. You’ll regret it.

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What it really boils down to is the same message that most of these films have, a distorted version of the white slavery anxiety. Don’t trust the locals, intrepid tourists. The poor brown people are out to get you. Because that’s a message we really need.

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Hostel, which Turistas is so clearly inspired by, had interesting things to say about capitalism and the commodification of human bodies – both for sex work and for the darker industry that Elite Hunting caters to. Turistas brings up some interesting subtext for a moment, and then promptly abandons it. Furthermore, the organ-stealing scheme makes absolutely no sense. Organs are only viable if you have a compatible recipient to stick them in – and our villains do a grand total of zero tests to determine any of this. What are they going to do with the organs? Stare at them?

Probably. Because they sure as hell are not going to be doing viable transplants.

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Hostel provided the story with a business model that worked, no matter how macabre. Turistas provides us with a halfway interesting motive, and a scheme that has absolutely zero chance of actually working. And the film expects us to believe that a competent surgeon – which Zamora is shown to be – would actually mastermind something so half-assed.

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In short, the fact that Turistas had decent concepts buried underneath the overwhelming mediocrity of its story just pisses me off. Horror can and should go to scary and uncomfortable places, and really look at the world. Turistas is a retelling of every pointless tourist in peril story we’ve seen before. The grains of an interesting subtext aren’t enough to make it worth watching.

Try harder next time.

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