DVD Review – ‘Turistas’

     March 19, 2007

Reviewed by Hunter M Daniels

THE FILM

The current crop of so called “torture porn” films are to be expected. A situation like that shown in the phenomenally popular “Hostel” and “Saw” franchises is a reaction to stresses of the world.

Tom Savini famously commented that all of his effects work was based on what he saw, and took meticulous photographs of, in the Vietnam War. The prevalence of the Slasher genre in the 80’s is often seen as a reflection of the societal backlash from the sexually open hippy era to a point where sex was again something to be feared. The slasher, reinforcing these values was a creation of cold war paranoia. Freddy, Jason and Michael were just manifestations of the seemingly indestructible force of communism—a monolithic beast ready to destroy the All-American kids and take away the future of an entire generation.

In the slasher films the enemy was clear and the motivation was simple because America knew “They” were the bad guys and we were the good guys. Things were clear cut and there was a linear path between problem and solution.

That is no longer the case.

Today, we have been weaned on paranoia. Anyone could be a “sleeper-cell” hiding in our neighborhood. Anyone we pass on the street could be planning to make some homemade explosive and put it in his or her shoe. The enemy is no longer a nation. No longer some clear cut “Them whom we can gather together to hate. We have been taught that the Muslim faith is not the enemy (while simultaneously told that it more or less is) and that we cannot possibly try to fight a war against the religion. So what are we left with?

“Saw” and “Hostel” and “Turistas” especially all deal with this problem. Where once the teenagers who had committed some sin would be punished while the sober virgin would survive now the victim is most often a completely innocent person. Also, the murder is not its own end any longer, the torture that comes first more than the inevitable final blow is the focus. Terrorism works this same way. It is not the number of people killed, it is the fear this instills in those still alive.

It is important to note the prevalence of the idea of games in these films. From an outside perspective, there is a sort of art and beauty to the simplicity of the 9/11 attacks. The most effective moments in the “Saw” films recreate this effect. Basic tools turned against their makers. A child’s clay made into a facsimile of a bomb. Box-knives into weapons used to kill thousands. A videogame as instruction. All of these become puzzle-pieces to the twisted games of the madmen on screen in these “torture” films. And the monster is no longer some giant oaf. He is smarter than you, and in the case of Jigsaw and the Doctor in “Turistas” he is going to literally convert you to his way of thinking.

To ignore the messages of a film like “Turistas” or any of the other torture based horror films is to ignore what could well be the central problem of our modern world. Horror films are one of the most telling signs of what a society is grappling with at any given moment, even as, or perhaps because, they are rarely appreciated until generations later.

“Turistas” is the latest entry into the torture horror subgenre. However, unlike its predecessors, this film seems almost uninteresting in its’ gory bits. There is a feeling of an adventure chase film from the 80’s with organ removal added onto it. Like many similar films, “Turistas” starts off with some somewhat developed main characters traveling abroad and finding their way into what amounts to a Venus fly trap. Here, the twenty-somethings are Caucasian tourists in Brazil who are abducted by an evil doctor who wants to take their organs so that they can “give back” to the country they are taking so much from.

When this film was released there was some talk of it being racist or unfair to Brazilians. But to interpret the film in this manner would be to deeply undersell its point. Ultimately, this is a film about xenophobia. Brazil is used as a sort of shorthand for the protagonists eroticizing foreign culture while extolling their own ethnocentrism and assuming that the locals will just do whatever is requested because of the European nation’s dominance in South America. One man sleeps with a woman presuming she must want him because he is a foreigner and is shocked to discover that she is a prostitute and wanted him for his money. The underlying irony is that in either situation, her agenda is identical. It is also worth noting that only one of the main characters even bothered to learn Portuguese, while the others continually yell in broken Spanish, unaware of their own idiocy.

“Turistas” deals with deep seeded issues of disenfranchisement and subjugation. The organs taken from the youths are little more than extensions of Shylock’s demand for a pound of flesh. The Brazilian characters are almost never subtitled and most of the discomfort and terror that an audience is likely to feel results from our collective ignorance of foreign cultures. The assumption that people outside of our own circle of European white culture are somehow less civilized or boorish is played off of to great effect.

Our own ethnocentrism is challenged with the character of “Kiko” who is at first played for comic relief because of his fractured English. He seems almost slow or “special” if you will. As the story progresses however, he is shown to be the moral center of the feature, choosing to protect the protagonists from a fate too terrible for words.

This is certainly the best looking of the torture horror films (thanks to the steady directorial hand of John Stockwell) and for as much as it has been compared to “Hostel” and “Saw” it is more derivative of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” than anything else.

Even with these faults and the added baggage of abundant brutality towards women and some logical jumps in the narrative, “Turistas” stands on its own as an above average thriller thanks to its claustrophobic and tense final act where the surviving characters desperately try escape through a series of underwater tunnels. The tension is palpable and effect is gripping.

“Turistas” is not a revolutionary film but it is definitely underrated (IMDB currently has it listed at a 3.0 average). There are some excellent set pieces and plenty to think about if you look beneath the surface.

THE DISC

There are supposed to be the unrated and R rated versions of the film on this disc as well as 10 deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a director’s commentary. However, the screener copy I received had only 1 short featurette on the special effects. This featurette was however, really well put together. It’s actually more gross than the entire film. The effects work on display is absolutely superlative, especially the cracked skull.

The movie looks great. The transfer is sharp, and though some scenes felt under lit (though this was stylistic decision I’m sure) I never had trouble following the action during any of the chase scenes. The dialogue comes through clear and the sound mixing lets the creepy sound effects surround you, especially during the surgery scene.

Movie: 8/10

DVD: 7/10

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