• Eli Roth
  • 2006

The first thing that needs to be made clear about Eli Roth’s Hostel is that it is not a horror film; it is a torture film, teetering on the border of being a snuff film. To quote every bad review of a scary movie ever written, “The only truly frightening thing about this movie is that it was made.” With Quentin Tarantino’s name plastered at the top of the poster, audiences will be herded into the theater, misled under the impression that they’re in for a stylish, perhaps even satirical thrill. Unfortunately, all they’ll get is a senseless, brutal, and sickening ninety five minute headache.

…the women are sexier and hornier for American trust funders than anywhere else in Europe

Hostel is the story of three young travelers, going on the obligatory backpack excursion through Europe. Beginning with the stereotypical debauchery that is an American’s first trip to Amsterdam, we meet Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Josh (Derek Richardson), and Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), two Americans and their Icelandic scamp of a friend. They catch wind of a secret town in Slovakia, where the women are sexier and hornier for American trust funders than anywhere else in Europe. They arrive, and their girls gone wild fantasies come true until Paxton’s friends start going missing. When he attempts to put the pieces together and find out what happened, he is lured to a run down factory where he meets their fate: to be tortured and murdered at the hands of businessmen so bored with their money and lives, the only way they can get off is by executing tourists.

So why isn’t this movie scary? Because it doesn’t offer anything to really fear. You’re left with a heavy, rising feeling in your stomach not because a character, a person, a human being for whom you are genuinely concerned is having a power drill shoved through their kneecap, but because there is no reason for it, and you don’t really care. In fact, you’ll probably take a moment, during the boring parts that aren’t bombarding you with viscera, to try and remember the names of any of the characters. Then you’ll probably give up because Barbara Nedeljakova is taking her clothes off again (her character’s name is Natalya, not that you’ll remember it). There’s not a single reason to like any of the characters, which makes their inevitable demises so uninteresting. There’s nothing to be found in the film that is actually exciting, just really disturbing.

…did the public really need to know that humanity has sunk to such lows?

Eli Roth has offered all sorts of justifications and rationalizations for the slime he’s throwing out at the world. He explains that the prolific idea struck when he and Harry Knowles of found a website (since removed) that offered customers a chance to travel to a foreign country and murder an innocent person for $10,000. Did the public really need to know that humanity has sunk to such lows? The fact that we’re supposed to be entertained by this concept and these violence gymnastics is almost as if the film is saying “By the way, in case you had any faith left in humanity, take a look at this!” Thanks Eli. I was almost starting to feel good about us as a species.

He also tries to rationalize the bloody nonsense as a cautionary tale; a metaphor for the way the world feels about young Americans and their arrogance. Knowles, in his own review, even likened it to the children’s story Pinocchio in that sense. But the strokes with which Roth paints the world are so broad and sloppy that it’s impossible to believe it’s actually representative of something. And what it is representing is such a minority population of Americans (young men whose parents send them on vacation for a few months) that it almost seems passe. After all, everyone knows you have to go to South America to find yourself these days.

…it seems strange that perhaps the one saving grace of the film is its gratuitous graphic violence

I will concede one thing though: the gore is pretty well done. If you’re the type of person who watches a movie simply for the violence, then you won’t be disappointed. Somehow it seems strange that perhaps the one saving grace of the film is its gratuitous graphic violence. Little clotted chunks and fragments of bone, teeth, and hair swirl around on dingy floors in vile little pools. Tools like hedge clippers, rusty chainsaws, blowtorches and surgical instruments are included in the assailants’ arsenals. But if it’s violence you’re after, you might as well watch Evil Dead or Dawn of the Dead and double it up with a little humour or social commentary to keep you from going suicidal.

Hostel is the kind of movie that evolved from films found in the basement of a sleazy discount video store. Staking his claim as the Ed Wood of the new millennium, Roth is set to make a career out of bad movies. But unlike Wood’s pictures, you won’t find any laughs. Just dry heaves.

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