Horror review: Turistas

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, NOV. 29, 2006

What Hostel did for the Slovakian tourism industry—which was basically to drag it into a backroom and torture it to death—Turistas should do for the backpacking-in-Brazil set. But while Hostel director Eli Roth’s controversial 2005 shocker was about as subtle as an electric drill to the eye, Turistas takes pains to get its careful-where-you-wander theme across with considerably more restraint. It’s a beautifully shot tale of tropical terror that starts building an ominous vibe early on, but never really turns into a full-fledged gross-out like Hostel.

Except for that one part.

It begins with a group of six young American, British, and Australian vacationers on a dilapidated bus that’s careering along a remote Brazilian mountainside. You don’t have to be an adventurous world traveller to relate to hunky Yank Alex (Josh Duhamel of TV’s Las Vegas) when he emphatically voices his concern that passenger safety isn’t foremost in the mind of the booger-picking jackass at the wheel. Heck, I was tempted to yell “Slow the fuck down!” at our taxi driver on the 20-minute ride from Cancún airport to our all-inclusive hotel!

After an extremely close brush with death, the holidayers find themselves stuck at the side of the road, but after one of them inadvertently raises the ire of a local, they band together and try to make the best of a bad situation. It helps that there just happens to be a well-stocked watering hole on a stunning beach within walking distance.

And that one of the girls in the group has misplaced her bikini top.

Most horror flicks that employ a gaggle of sexy potential victims make them out to be nauseating types deserving of the bad guy’s machete, but for the most part, the characters portrayed here are worth caring about. And when they get drugged at the oceanside bar and robbed of everything but their clothes, director John Stockwell zeroes in on the common fear of being hopelessly stranded far from home. Unfortunately for the victimized gringos, the loss of their money, passports, and cellphones soon becomes the least of their worries.

Hostel posited the existence of evil people in the world who pay huge sums of money for the opportunity to leisurely kill others with no risk of getting caught. Turistas taps into another realm of wealth-driven depravity—the harvesting of human organs—but without wallowing in extreme cruelty. Stockwell—who’s used to shooting in water after Into the Blue and Blue Crush—is more concerned with creating fear and tension through claustrophobically choreographed underwater-cave scenes than with lingering on the aftereffects of a deftly applied scalpel.

Except for that one part.

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