Paradise Lost (Turistas) Review

Paradise Lost, which was released in the US last December as Turistas, starts out like The Beach and ends up like Apocalypto. In between, it tries to be like Hostel. The plot concerns three young Americans backpacking to the Brazilian coast. Alex (Josh Duhamel) is chaperoning his sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and her pal Amy (Beau Garrett). After their bus crashes, they hook up with a few fellow travellers - cute Australian Pru (Melissa George) and a couple of noisy, drunken, comic relief Londoners (Desmond Askew and Max Brown).

Travelling on foot together, the gang chances upon an idyllic Brazilian beach, complete with bar and late night parties, and they decide to make camp there. But the locals aren't as friendly as they seem. The backpackers are drugged and robbed and then led to a deserted house deep in the jungle, where a mad doctor (Miguel Lunardi) has plans for them.

And fiendish plans they are too. Paradise Lost has only one sequence of horror but it's one you won't forget in a hurry: a helpless, naked young woman is slit open at the abdomen and slowly eviscerated while she watches. This is shown with all the graphic detail of a medical school training video and it's one of the nastiest sights I've ever seen in a cinema. Twenty years ago, the police would have been removing all copies of this movie from the shelves of your local video shop.

That's probably sold the film to some people but although it's being advertised as a sado-horror movie - a South American variation on Hostel - Paradise Lost isn't played for scares. It's a confused little film that doesn't seem sure what it wants to be. Imagine an outdoors action thriller in the Deliverance vein spiced up with attractive, semi-naked young actors and the occasional dollop of sadism.

However it was intended, Paradise Lost doesn't satisfy on any level. As a jungle chase thriller, it has nothing like the visceral power of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. As a tourist nightmare, it's nowhere near as effective as Hostel. Failing to thrill, horrify or titillate, it alternates between being dull and being thoroughly unpleasant.

A major part of the problem is that, other than the loudmouthed English blokes, the characters are so poorly defined, I didn't feel anything for them. To make matters worse, the cast-members all look like they belong in The O.C. and they spend most of the film wearing only swimming shorts and bikinis, which makes it difficult just to tell them apart. Speaking of their lack of clothing, at one point they spend a day hiking through the South American jungle barefoot and wearing just their swimsuits with no apparent ill effects. To be fair, we do see them stop occasionally to rub their feet.

Now I'm quite happy to ogle fit young women in bikinis for ninety minutes but if that's what I'm looking for from a film then I'll skip Paradise Lost and stick with one of director John Stockwell's previous chicks-in-bikinis movies, Blue Crush and Into The Blue. At least they don't show any of the pretty girls having their entrails removed.

Believe it or not, beneath all this bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation, there's an attempt at political commentary. The mad doctor turns out to be the Che Guevera of insane physicians, claiming he does what he does as payback for the exploitation of Brazil by the backpackers' home countries. This appeal to western liberal self-hate has struck a chord with some critics. I've actually read reviews that found the doctor's motives sympathetic, as if disembowelling college girls was a recognised form of protest against the G8!

I would have thought self-respecting liberals would be foaming at the mouth over Paradise Lost. It's possibly the most xenophobic film I've ever seen and I'm not the sort of person who gets worked up about films' political incorrectness. Let me put it this way: the Red Dawn special edition is high up on my to-buy list. But when I asked myself, would I have been offended if this film had depicted English people instead of Brazilians, the answer was yes, I probably would. Hostel wouldn't have bothered me - its villains aren't simply Slovakians, they're organised criminals catering to rich sadists. Paradise Lost however shows every Brazilian in the film in a bad light. The ones who aren't trying to lure tourists to their grisly deaths are out to rob them, cheat them or get a mob together to lynch them. This is the first time I've seen the same film try to appeal to both white guilt and fear of swarthy foreigners. Its message seems to be, "Don't go anywhere near the Third World or they'll rob you and murder you... but then, hey, we do deserve it!"

Overall

3

out of 10

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