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Travelers Beware

Foreign vacationers get schooled in nationalist intolerance


Riding the current wave of horror movies populated with American travelers preyed upon by torturing crazies, Turistas plays its suspense trump card as the first American film shot entirely in Brazil. Alex (Josh Duhamel) and his sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) are derailed from their sightseeing plans, with their friend Amy (Beau Garrett), when their tour bus goes over the side of one of Brazil's high lush mountains. The trio barely escapes the catastrophe, along with their fellow passengers, but the fate that awaits them is no less shocking. A local renegade doctor (Miguel Lunardi) has committed his life to capturing foreign visitors from whom he steals internal organs to give to needy natives. Director John Stockwell (Blue Crush) electrifies the barbed wire horror, from debut screenwriter Michael Arlen Ross, with gut-wrenching suspense that attends the painful trajectory of several characters.

After surviving the harrowing bus sequence, our shell-shocked vacationers encounter the distrust of the Brazilian locals when Bea takes a photo of a local child whose father freaks out because he thinks she has sights on kidnapping his young daughter to sell on the black market.

The three travelers buddy up with fellow traveler Pru (Melissa George) and British vagabonds Finn and Liam (Desmond Askew and Max Brown) before descending to an idyllic beach equipped with a primitive bar and disco. During an evening of drinking, dancing and sex, the group are drugged and robbed of all of their possessions. Left without shoes and only minimal clothes on their bodies, the unlucky pack earn the wrath of the unpoliced locals when one of them throws a rock at a native boy wearing a stolen hat. Kiko (Agles Steib), an ostensibly compassionate villager, comes to the embattled group's aid when he offers to lead them through the jungle to a house where they will be safe from the polarized community that wants to kill them. A nine-hour hike through the thick jungle brings the assembly to an underwater passage that provides a claustrophobic environment not unlike the caves in this year's horror achievement The Descent. Anxiety mounts as the swimmers squeeze between rock walls to catch their breath in pockets of confined air. It's in these unaffected scenes that the beautiful remote locations take on an doomed and monstrous personality.

The problem with Turistas is that the scenes in the violent third act are filmed under such dark conditions--underwater and in a nighttime jungle--that the audience isn't able to make a necessary emotional connection with which protagonists are fighting for their lives. In a way, it's a continuity problem that allows the audience to relax some during what could be a considerably more high-strung cinematic experience.

Predictably, the house that Kiko brings the throng to is the headquarters and operating room of the evil Dr. Zamora (Lunardi) who steals the movie when he delivers a blood-curdling monologue of malice while removing the kidneys and liver, sans anesthetic, of a female victim. The Grand Guignol torture scene is notable for its ideologically driven theme, with Miguel Lunardi channeling the diabolical Vincent Price in one of his finer moments. Revenge is in the eye, and hands, of the torturer. Second world survival never seemed so dicey.