Friday, January 2, 2009

It's Scary Beyond Your Own Backyard

I'm a Brad Anderson fan, and I think Session 9 and The Machinist are two of the most underrated Hollywood films. Naturally I'd been pretty excited about seeing his latest, Transsiberian. I finally saw it last night, and while it's not as good as those two other movies, it's still a pretty gripping thriller about an American couple travelling from China through Russia and encountering all kinds of trouble.

Midway through the film, it struck my mind that I was seeing a trend being stretched and moulded here. Morphed even. Another movie I'd seen recently, The Ruins, made it even more concrete.

The Ruins is about two American couples holidaying in Mexico who decide to visit an old Mayan ruin and run into killer plants and hostile locals.

See the connection yet?

Both Transsiberian and The Ruins are about American tourists getting into weird troubles abroad. Of course, we've had torture porn like Hostel treating us to Americans being mutilated and killed in strange European resthouses. But now, here's a classy thriller with emphasis on characters and story that also uses the same template, and Transsiberian is definitely not another run-of-the-mill torture flick to satiate cinemagoers' bloodlust. (Although the one constant through all these films are acts of torture, and Transsiberian has one, too.)

It leads one to question why such a proliferation of stories about American tourists and their harrowing holidays. It also has to be noted that there have previously been movies with ideas such as horrid Turkish prisons (Midnight Express) and horrid Thai prisons (Brokedown Palace). But in just the last few years, it seems to have been solidified into a true-blue trend. Americans want to have a good time, Americans travel abroad, Americans meet some foreigners, Americans go along with them, Americans run into trouble.

Is this a sign of America becoming even more isolated now? What's really happening? Of course, in recent times, things like the War on (/of) Terror has probably led to Americans' fear of stepping outside of their own backyards. Take for example, the Green Zone in Iraq, a fortified safe area for Americans, which, according to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life In The Emerald City, is somewhat like a mini-America inside Iraq. Perhaps it's all these things that has fed the fear of what's "out there," and that a friendly foreign face doesn't always mean someone you can trust.

Perhaps this is what filmmakers have picked up on.

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