Turistas (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Turistas starts out as an effective little horror movie before devolving into an incoherent mess during its final 30 minutes. The problem isn't the body count, it's the inability to figure out what the number is due to the way in which director John Stockwell has chosen to film his payoff scenes. There's room here for suspense, but it's hard to generate tension when the viewer can't figure out what's going on. Darkness and rain are great when it comes to establishing atmosphere, but they're not so great when filming action sequences. It doesn't take long before it becomes impossible to figure out who's chasing whom and who's about to face the wrong end of a sharp object. In the end, everything becomes clear, but the path to that conclusion is long, dark, dripping, and frustrating to navigate.

Irrespective of how the climactic chase scenes were shot, Turistas was never going to ascend to the pinnacle of the mountain of modern cinematic horror, but it would have been easier to recommend. The lengthy setup, which takes about one hour, is suitably ominous - derivative, to be sure, but creepy nonetheless. The characters, variations on a theme, are likable despite their lack of depth. This is in contrast to Hostel, a movie to which Turistas can easily be compared (both feature backpackers in a foreign country being duped by the locals), in which the protagonists were jerks. In addition to Hostel, Turistas borrows from Wolf Creek (more dumb tourists) and The Descent (cave action). The film isn't as good as the latter two, but it is a slight improvement over Eli Roth's gory misfire. For those who want a little more out of their horror movies, this one comes complete with a political message about the greed and arrogance of Americans.

The six main characters (also known as Fodder for Homicidal Natives) are brought together in a rural area of Brazil when their bus doesn't quite make a turn. They get out okay, but the vehicle is a write-off, taking a long tumble down a steep embankment. Alex (Josh Duhamel) is on vacation with his sister, Bea (Olivia Wilde) and her wild friend, Amy (Beau Garrett). Pru (Melissa George), a wanderer by nature, is a long way away from her native Australia. And Finn (Desmond Askew) and Liam (Max Brown) are visiting from the U.K., looking for wine and women. Instead of waiting for the replacement bus, these four decide to investigate rumors of an ultra-secret private beach and bar. This supposed paradise turns into something different when they are drugged and robbed. They wake up half naked and have to trek through ten hours of wilderness to arrive at a safe house. (Joseph Conrad fans do not get excited: this is not Hearts of Darkness.) What they don't know is they're being led into a trap run by a mad doctor with an ax to grind (literally) about organ harvesting.

Director John Stockwell, who has been stuck on the color "blue" for his recent films (Blue Crush, Into the Blue) moves into darker territory - both literally and figuratively. The forests of Brazil are filmed with an eye toward menace rather than as scenic destinations. One suspects the Brazilian Tourist Board will not be pleased. Stockwell appears to be more interested in suspense than gore for gore's sake. There's some of that, but it's not gratuitous. Other horror conventions abound. There are a few bare breasts (although the longest exposure occurs during a scene that is anything but titillating) and characters act in predictably stupid ways. This is annoying, but one has to recognize that if the protagonists behaved intelligently, it would be a short, boring movie.

The cast is comprised of young, good looking actors. Lead hunk Josh Duhamel has some motion picture experience (he was the title character in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton) but is best known for a lead role in the TV series Las Vegas. Melissa George is not a horror neophyte, having previously appeared in the remake of The Amityville Horror. Before that, she was a semi-regular in Alias. Olivia Wilde comes to Turistas from The O.C. Beau Garrett has limited previous experience, which explains why she's the one chosen to show her breasts. Both Desmond Askew and Max Brown have done a lot of U.K. television. They also show their chests but the effect isn't the same.

Turistas delivers just about everything a viewer expects from a horror movie except a well-lit conclusion. Admittedly, there is fine line between using darkness to set a tone and having it result in the obfuscation of everything by going for an authentic look, and Stockwell ends up on the wrong side of that demarcation. When frustration trumps suspense, something is wrong. Respect for an audience demands a certain amount of clarity, especially during the climax, and Stockwell doesn't deliver.

Turistas (United States, 2006)

Director: John Stockwell
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown
Screenplay: Michael Ross
Cinematography: Enrique Chediak
Music: Paul Haslinger
U.S. Distributor: Fox Atomic
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2006-12-01
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1