Among the better movies from the recent batch of extreme/torture horror, it's a shame that Turistas is probably destined forever to live in the shadows of the "Hostel" series, because it's significantly better than either installment that Hostel has yet produced. Following an unmistakably similar plot as the first "Hostel" - although I think both movies started production at about the same time and this one just took longer to finish - "Turistas" finds (as does its better-known peer) a group of vacationers travelling to an exotic hot spot (in this case Brazil) for a fun-filled getaway, only to run afoul of a local group of brutal, torture-minded psychopaths. The main differences are, I guess, rather subjective. Personally, I thought Turistas was scarier and sexier than Hostel, and had more likable protagonists and more interesting villains. In the first half, there's little overtly horror movie-ish about the film: the main group is prevented from going to their upper-scale tourist destination because of a bus mishap, and ends up at a more off-the-main-path destination, a small village by the beach without the big hotels from tourist brochures, but with festive, smaller-scale, attractions - open air beach bars, big evening bonfire parties, all that kind of thing. They end up making friends with some fellow travellers and with the locals, but some of those locals have a keen interest in the newcomers that doesn't seem to be on the up and up. Come the next day, the vacationers find they've been robbed and the village starts to seem less than friendly, so, with the help of a local they've befriended, head off towards less threatening envirorns, travelling through a swath of rainforest on what turns out to be a very ill-fated trek. The sexy, fun-natured and sometimes humorous angles of the early parts end up meshing very well (and better than what might be expected) with the dark, deeply intense nature of the movie's second half.
Having established its tourist characters as actually likable and interesting, "Turistas" also brings up the level of its bad guys a bit more than a number of similar movies have done. The ringleader of the group, while certainly not rising to the level of a character like Jigsaw, is well-crafted and believable, a highly intelligent but unflichingly sadistic mastermind. For his accomplices, he's surrounded himself not only with like-minded psychopaths, but a few less obvious choices: desperate, confused and often embittered characters, who he's recruited by not only presenting to them the only feasible means out of their own destitution, but by being a smooth, manipulative talker who can paint even horrible acts (such as his 'organ-harvesting' operation) as being somehow justified. The prescence of these 'reluctant villains', and of the element of the evil charmer who's skilled enough to make people act in ways they'd normally never even consider, are both welcome angles.
With the movie developing into some intense battles, it's in ways like an action movie that's presented as a horror movie. It manages some genuine scares, and hits psychological horror notes as well as gory, visceral horror notes. Well acted and well directed, with impressive camerwork, especially in the underwater sequences. The movie utilizes a kind of unique use of lighting, and sometimes color, to create an effect that really captures the atmosphere and heat, making certain daytime scenes feel like they're drenched in hot sunlight.
"Turistas" is a fine addition to the pantheon of horror movies, and shouldn't be overlooked just because of its similarities to other movies, although the torturous nature of the organ-harvesters means that it's not for everybody. It is a reminder though, that just because a movie isn't exactly reinventing the wheel in terms of storyline, it can still be a great movie.