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Movie Review: Hostel

Written and directed by Eli Roth
Lionsgate, 2006

I’ll be the first to admit that horror films have a harder time winning me over than any other genre.  They are probably harder to do than comedy, as any dumb, lazy comedy can come out and be mildly enjoyable.  But when horror is dumb and lazy, there’s really nothing to enjoy out of massive bloodletting.  Of late, horror films have been embracing torture rather than one specific serial killer mindlessly ripping people to shreds.  Torture as a game, torture as catharsis.

Torture cinema isn’t all that new, but the Japanese horror scene has certainly gained a big cult following and the films of Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) have led the way for Sick Things You Can Do to Human Bodies.  For me, you’re going to have to do better than show creative pain techniques to get me involved in a film, and as far as Miike goes, Audition was creepy as hell so it worked.  Eli Roth’s Hostel is one of your better examples.

The setup is good, though.  American men Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) are touring Europe looking for visceral experiences.  They’ve recently joined a European, Oli (Eythor Gudjonnson), in this pursuit of sex and drugs, traipsing around Amsterdam until they are told that where they can really find the easy lay is in a remote Slovakian hostel.  Road trip!

So they make it there and hot babes (Barbara Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderabkova) are already undressing in their room, beckoning them to come to a spa where more free peeks at nubile flesh can further seduce the trio into thinking they’ve hit the jackpot.  The girls take them out drinking and dancing, give them powerful drugs, and screw them senseless, so that later they will trust anything that comes their way, even after their new friend Oli turns up missing.  On the second go-around, things get seriously troubling.  Josh is gone, and Paxton has to find him.

Josh has been kidnapped and has entered the world of fantasy thrill kills, where a wealthy person can pay big money to act out a torture/murder scenario.  Paxton learns of this when he gets kidnapped himself, and has to depend on brains and luck to get him out of it.

On just a pure thrill level, Hostel delivers.  But I like the idea that Europe is this big adult fantasyland, where the advertised thrills are in-your-face sex shows, where you can have any base instinct satisfied with the turn of a doorknob.  Hostel gives this idea a twist by saying, “Well, we can give you a fix on sex, why not violence?”  Because that’s what these more dangerous fantasy scenarios are: people getting off on inflicting pain.

So when Hostel arrives to the big secret, we see this sick world of wealthy men throwing cash around to do anything they want, stepping well over the line.  This is scary.  But I’m still more inclined to side with suspense over gross-out effects.  Luckily, Roth keeps a good balance in Hostel and those either side of the coin will be satisfied.  It even turns into a decent revenge film in the third act.  You can even get some enjoyment in philosophy and subtext with this film: like considering the question of whether maybe the Americans depicted in this film “deserve” their fate (you know, for being filthy Americans).  The so-called conservatism in horror (no sex and drugs, or you’ll be murdered) is quite prevalent here.  This is where a horror movie becomes much more than “just a horror movie.”

Hostel made a little over $47 million in 2006, a good amount of cash for an indie, and like many horror movies has probably gained a big following on video and hence, a sequel coming out later in the year.

Next: Hostel: Part II

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