Director: John Stockwell (Into the Blue)
Screenplay: Michael Ross
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George
Rating: R "To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe." Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
A while ago I was vacationing in Guatemala only to be hauled off a bus, spread against its side, and frisked by rebels with carbines. As a turista I was astonished that a gringo such as I had to be humiliated like this. Then I heard about vacationers who didn't make it out. I didn't slow down traveling to foreign lands, but I certainly learned to hike smart and humble when invading someone else's territory.
The newest genre in the B movie world is the 20 something/college student adventure into remote spots where terror waits, a machete or a scalpel away. The best movies have been The Descent, where young women encounter humanoids in a spelunking safari (horror because of the other worldly, Twilight Zone elements) and Wolf Creek, which is a terror rather than horror flick because there is nothing other worldly about a murdering psychopath. Turistas takes us where we have all been before at least in our minds, and I don't mean its actual location, Brazil, but rather to the Iraq-like Latin country where xenophobia is king, where white Anglos and European backpackers are treated as invaders and despoilers.
The terror is the revenge of a demented Latino at his remote jungle compound where he captures gringos and harvests their vital organs for the needy of his country. His speech about justifying his horror as fitting retribution for the rape of his land by foreigners is outrageously ham handed, but I have to appreciate a film that wants to rise to an allegorical theme of colonialism's payment due.
The problem as always is that the young bodies are too beautiful and bare and the horror too rapid and intense to allow for deeper discourse on the evils of invasion. There are moments that overcome the stultifying clich?s of the genre, for instance, the realism of the poverty and the lurid suspense of underwater chases, clearly a love of the director, John Stockwell, who gave us sumptuous visuals in Into the Blue.
The opening scene of a clash in which the inconsiderate gringos take taboo photos of the Latin children is a fine setting and theme establisher, the acting is appropriate, and the low key lighting in the jungle and under water is just enough to create suspense, dread, and ambiguity. But there is nothing ambiguous about filmmakers exploiting once again the stereotypes of callow hedonists and menacing foreigners.
The parallel to the U.S. penchant for blundering and plundering into developing nations is more painful than the graphic lifting of a kidney from the abdomen of a clueless American beauty. Turistas is a movie I perversely enjoyed because I am sometimes a witless traveler hiking to where I should know much more about the culture. I am at least working on my ignorance.