Turistas (2006)


*. This is a slightly odd, but mostly in a good way, little horror film.
*. It’s not that odd. Eli Roth was apparently approached to direct but he was already working on Hostel, a film it closely resembles in terms of both structure and plot. Both films are prime examples of the tourist-terror sub-genre, whose precise origins I’m not sure of. The white people in Cannibal Holocaust aren’t really tourists, but it’s a similar idea. The Beach isn’t a horror film, but it’s very close in many ways to this film and others like it: paradise turning into hell when the natives fight back (Paradise Lost was the totally uninspired U.K. title for Turistas).
*. The business with the underwater caves may have been taken from The Beach as well. Not the film, but the novel, where they play an important role.
*. Then there’s the matter of politics. This is an area where the connection to Hostel is particularly strong.
*. Here’s Kim Newman with one take on the political message: “The implication, more or less foreign policy during George W. Bush’s War on Terror, is that torture is an unforgivable atrocity when perpetrated on Americans, but justified — and worth cheering — when used by Americans against foreigners. After all, they started it. . . . This pattern, raising a mythical American vice as spurious justification for a sadistic foreign overreaction which is then righteously punished, recurs in the Hostel-influenced Turistas/Paradise Lost.”
*. Well, maybe. But the thing is, Roth was very much against the U.S. involvement in Iraq and the use of torture, and Hostel was meant as an indictment of all that. I don’t think we can see him as a Bush apologist.
*. Turistas is also a little different, in that it doesn’t deal with torture. Even the victims are drugged before surgery, which is a sort of kindness. Instead of being about torture, it’s about reversing a history of exploitation.
*. Is that a spurious excuse for Zamora’s crimes? Yes. And I don’t think John Stockwell is concerned one bit with the politics of the situation (unlike Roth). On the commentary he refers to Zamora’s claim to be working for a “good cause” as a “quasi-Marxist-socialist” philosophy and that’s all he has to say about it.
*. Nevertheless, the class argument is there, as it is, increasingly, in all the Hostel films. This is what I think really lies behind the tourist-terror genre. It’s not so much that the tourists are American as they are white and rich (note how there are always token Europeans included in the mix).
*. We know the rich eat us alive every day. The revenge of the Third World is thus a kind of social or class revolution, much the same thing as the revenge of the country against the city (a traditional theme in American horror films), only conceived globally. Brazil is flyover country. It’s not just that the tourists get off the main highway and find themselves in a primitive and poor backwater, but that they shouldn’t have been driving through Brazil in the first place. Next time take the plane, gringos!


*. While it’s an interesting political message, it’s also a stretch. If you were going to set up an organ harvesting clinic would you first think of locating it in the middle of the jungle, in a spot accessible only by helicopter or a ten-hour hike? It seems to me the bad doctors in Coma had a slightly better system in place.
*. Heaven knows where the helicopter is landing. I didn’t see any open areas near the house. In fact there weren’t any, which is why you don’t actually see a helicopter in the movie, just a light at the end of a crane.
*. What happens to Liam? He is shot in the leg and then butt-stroked by one of the guards and dragged back into the house. Are his organs taken? Why would they be, since obviously the schedule for harvesting them is now out the window and Zamora has other, more pressing, priorities.
*. It seems odd that this is left as a loose end, but then Pru was supposed to die in the first version of the script and her ghost character is sort of there and not there during most of the escape and ending. Apparently she spent several hours alone in one of the caves, which would have killed her, but whatever.
*. The whole end of the movie after the cave diving sequence kind of fizzles out. Why the hell does Bea stop Alex from bashing Zamora’s head in? He’s trying to kill you, girl! And why would Zamora provoke his hired gun (I believe his name is Jamoru) so crudely? Was he trying to get shot?
*. There was an alternate ending (available on the DVD) that made more sense. Zamora accidently shoots Jamoru and then Alex kills Zamora with the rock. Though I thought we still needed to see Zamora’s head being turned into jelly, like that of the gangster being brained by a fire extinguisher at the beginning of Irreversible.
*. How do the survivors manage to make their way back to an airport without money, cellphones, or passports? Did they bother to report to the authorities or the American embassy what happened to them? Maybe they could have saved Liam! But as the movie ends they seem kind of quiet about everything. Has this just been a vacation from hell that they’d like to forget?
*. Not surprisingly, Brazil’s tourism industry was not happy with the film. The story was originally set in Guatemala but was changed to Brazil. I’m not sure why. If the natives had all been speaking Spanish the producers wouldn’t have had to say what country they were in.
*. As with a lot of notorious “torture porn” horror films, the label doesn’t really fit and the film isn’t even that gory. It is, however, creepy. The thing is, I think surgery scares more people than zombies or serial killers anyway. If Zamora had been working out of a hospital it might have been even scarier.


*. The final thing that makes Turistas a little odd is the amount of time given over to the underwater stuff. I thought this was effective, if totally unbelievable, in the way most such sequences are. It’s dark down there, people! You can’t see a damn thing, even if you have a flashlight!
*. Stockwell comes from a background in board shorts-and-bikini movies (nice wardrobe double standard there!), so the amount of time spent in the water wasn’t too surprising. And such scenes work in a horror film, as the audience holds its breath along with the people on screen. The low ceilings in the caves add to the claustrophobia and the way the divers breath up the air bubbles is a really neat effect (though Stockwell notes on the commentary track that this is totally unrealistic too).
*. So even though they have no thematic relevance to the rest of the film, the underwater caves do provide a nice twist and the photography is very well done. I suspect Stockwell was more interested in this part of the movie, and his lack of interest in what comes after is what led to the lazy denouement already discussed.
*. In the tourist-terror genre I’d rate this movie below Hostel, about the same as Hostel II and slightly better than The Ruins. It did poor box office, for reasons that I’m not sure I understand. Had a reaction begun to set in? Was it too real, at least as opposed to fantasies like Hostel and The Ruins? Even a bad vacation should provide more of an escape.


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