Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderbkova, Jan Vlasák
MPAA Rating: (for brutal scenes of torture and violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use)
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 1/6/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
I am worried about Eli Roth. His debut movie Cabin Fever was a misconceived, misguided, stupid, and schlocky hodgepodge of horror and comedy that was neither scary nor funny. That movie was ultimately harmless, but his new feature Hostel seems to me a cry for help. Why no one during the process of making the movie saw that Roth's sadistic, homophobic, and overall misanthropic tendencies in filmmaking were clearly evidence that the man needs at least some major therapy is a great mystery. That Roth managed to elude a straightjacket or at least some medication tells us a lot about his friends. That Quentin Tarantino saw something in Roth's earlier work worthy of "presenting" this piece of sickness shows us that even the best of us can be hoodwinked. That this movie is taking up space in theaters at a time when people should be seeking out far worthier fare is just downright sad. From Cabin Fever, we know Roth thinks he is oh-so clever, so I suppose Hostel can be seen as a study of the horrible things people do to others to fulfill their sick pleasures. Fine, but Roth puts himself in the same boat as those monsters by wallowing with almost masturbatory pleasure in their deranged, inhuman deeds.
The story follows three college students (Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, and Eythor Gudjonsson) backpacking across Europe who find themselves in Amsterdam to get stoned and laid. During the escapades, they meet a weird kid who says a nearby Slovakian city is just the place to find women who go crazy over guys just because they have American accents. After some partying, they all eventually find themselves the victims of a torture/murder ring of rich people looking to get their jollies by using horrific means of tormenting and killing innocent kids who happen to meet the wrong people in their journeys. Roth clearly has been inspired by exploitation thrillers of decades' past, with the victim becoming the victimizer, but the majority of those movies were morally repugnant and so is Roth's. The opening scenes relish in the boys' amazement at European T&A, so once Roth begins to equally relish in the scenes of torture that follow, the connection is impossible to ignore. Nudity and torture are on equal levels in Roth's vision of sexuality.
The torture scenes are cringing in their attention to detail, but the movie is not scary, just disturbing. It's ironic that Roth's genre of choice is horror, because the director has no sense of building suspense. Right from the start, sinister music cues during fairly innocent scenes key us into the fact that something terrible will happen. He also jumps the gun on revealing the secret behind the early disappearances, because, I suppose, he simply wants to get to the gore and sadism. Almost all of the gory details are unnecessary—fodder for the Fangoria crowd—such as when we get a close-up of a electric drill penetrating flesh, a set of Achilles' tendons ripping open, a loose eyeball being cut from its burnt socket, and our hero losing a couple of fingers to a chainsaw to name an excruciating few. If he isn't busy focusing on dismembering, mutilating, or otherwise damaging human beings, Roth is giving us embarrassing dialogue in which most of the time someone or something is "gay" or an extended monologue about a drowning girl one character remembers from his childhood for no reason except that it will explain why he sticks around to "help" instead of escaping.
Roth's script also has his hero doing stupid horror clichés like throwing away a gun twice or hanging around an unsettling scene long enough so the audience can get all the gory details, but it's in its attempt at humor that Hostel really just hits rock bottom. Roth cuts from a girl getting her toe severed to a shot of her friend clipping her toenails. He adds an American member of the torture/murder group who's trying to decide whether to kill his $50,000 victim quickly or slowly, and the scene is unbearably uncomfortable in its comic tone. And, of course, he gets us rooting for the hero who ends up seeking violent, bloody revenge on those who put him in the situation in the first place. Hostel is pure exploitation, ineptly made, and completely repulsive.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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