John Stockwell’s Turistas blends early 2000 horror’s post-Hostel surgery obsession with the director’s obvious attraction to beach-destination filmmaking (Blue Crush/Into The Blue). Ignorant foreigners find themselves stranded on Brazil’s backroads when their bus overturns, only to seek refuge at a sandy paradise bar where worries drift away – which, we know, is too good to be true. Starring “up-and-comer” (at the time) Josh Duhamel, fresh-off-The OC Olivia Wilde, Melissa George and more, this country-hopping commentary on organ waitlists goes the slasher route by introducing an antagonistic mad doctor (played by Miguel Lunardi). One man with the bedside manner of an entrepreneurial Charles Manson devoted to harvesting visitor insides to earn a few bucks.
Michael Arlen Ross’ screenplay finds itself paced awkwardly as surgeon Zamora’s evil plot is intercut between sequences of partying tourists none the wiser – but this is Drinking With The Dead. Where we take midnight movies and inject a bit of fun into watching experiences despite the overall quality. In this case, I was endlessly entertained by Stockwell’s strange obsession with playing up how hilariously out-of-element each soul-searching, fun-chasing “cultural invader” *actually* is. We’ll get to the drinking game rules soon enough, but know that Turistas plays like it’s been produced by a gang of angry Brazilian natives sick of “gringos” ruining their good vibes. Right to the point, full of vacationist vitriol.
It all starts with a gagged medical operation that’s drenched in malicious intent. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak stays zoomed on a patient’s face, her nervous eyes accompanied by pleas of “don’t do it.” Our screen fades to black, Brazilian photographs start popping up and credits commence with the assurance that someone is holding tourists hostage and testing their scalpel precision on them – but I guess Ross believed we needed more explanation? To make painstakingly clear – with heavy-handed subtlety – one of Duhamel’s first lines is “I just keep thinking about how far we must be from a hospital. You know, with doctors who operate instead of amputate?” I highlight this because Turistas thinks so little of its audience that natural storytelling can’t progress without plotted beats being repeated multiple times by visual cues or spoken words. We get it, move on, and get to the killing!
Around every corner is an ignored red flag, mainly because the film’s wide-eyed pawns are too busy chugging beers and eyeing local talent to care. Trust is never earned, but dolled out anyway. Follow the broken-English tour guide into underwater cave systems even though you should be running from enraged villagers? Ignore the grimacing thugs watching your every move from afar? Don’t run when the villain’s henchwoman literally tells you “this guy is gonna fuck your day up, run now?” My favorite is how Melissa George’s character drops an offhanded line about two recent tourists who’ve gone missing, only to have listeners instantly distracted by smokin’ babes with tropical drinks walking by. It is…so “stupid Americans” to a fault/laughable degree.
Then again, this is a drinking game column. We’re talking about “party movies.” With that mindset, Turistas clings like a form-fitting swimsuit thanks to tropes that lean heavily on dimwitted booty-chasing and lapses in language. Sips of booze will help navigate an overgrown jungle of generics before reaching Ross’ cave-diving finale that’s far more anxiety stricken than Zamora’s leadup menacing. Maybe that’s just me and my immediate claustrophobic sensors, made worse by underwater suffocation imagery? Yeah, NOT A FAN of shots where Olivia Wilde’s face is pressed against rocky cavern ceilings with barely three breaths of air available. It’s like The Descent, except you don’t just get stuck – you drown, too. Tension damn-near directs itself.
Highlight moments include but are not limited to:
- A shuttle bus tumbling for what seems like an eternity.
- Zamora uses his snack skewer to teach a valuable lesson (in his henchman’s eye).
- Evil madman monologue while Zamora roots around someone’s open abdomen.
- Olivia Wilde, because she’s Olivia Wilde.
- Josh Duhamel the whiny traveler.
- Gore goes for the gold.
Hope you’ve got your suntan location and machete packed! Let’s get to Turista’s Drinking With The Dread rules so you can wet your whistle the Brazilian way.
- Drink every time the name of a country is spoken.
- Drink for every kiss (cheek or mouth).
- Drink every time the tourists are their most touristy (anytime you might utter “freakin’ tourists”).
- Drink every time someone or the whole group goes underwater (jump in the ocean, dive in a cave pool, etc).
- Drink TWICE when imminent danger is shrugged off (whenever the film hints at something sinister or blatantly shows what danger lies ahead).
- Drink TWICE for every death.
- TAKE A SHOT with the gang during their first night of partying on the beach!
In honoring Dread Central’s “Horror Heatwave” theme this July, my intention was to grant Turistas second life via drinking game. It’s not exactly a film I’d praise with three cheers (Piranha 3D/Deep Blue Sea more my summer vibe) – but the more I reflect on John Stockwell’s slaycation improvisation, the more I respect an “Eli Roth inspiration” that at least *tries* to be different. So many sadistic hack-em-up clones got bagged and tagged during this period, most of which disemboweled fleshy sacks with little more reason than to gross audiences out. Turistas might be on-the-nose to a conspiracy theorist’s farthest degree, but that’s *still* better than too many torture porners out there. Credit where credit is due.
Friends, let’s raise our glass once more in the name of cultural shoobies who suffered a brutal taste of hometown hospitality. Londoners who didn’t plan on leaving until every pint glass was emptied. Americans who snapped pictures of Brazilian children without asking their parent’s permission. Swedish folks who got their fingers chopped off and cliffjumped with no gear. Behold the inaugural release of Fox’s short-lived Fox Atomic distribution arm! Not necessarily the start you’d want, but we’re here to pay our respects anyway. To Turistas, the savage Brazilian blackmarket nightmare now Drinking With The Dread-ified for you viewing pleasure.
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