Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson.
Region 1, Unrated, Lions Gate
‘Hostel’ (cool play on words) has to have been one of the most anticipated and over-hyped horror movies for many years. Described as a rival to ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ in its brutality, immoral by Christian movie reviewers and accused of creating that oh so gross new horror sub genre; that of ‘gorenography.’ Director, producer and writer, Eli Roth, sure knows how to market his films.
The premise is nasty and sadistic, while still being Hollywood. Two Americans (Paxton played by Jay Hernandez and Josh played by Derek Richardson) are on a European backpacking holiday, they join up with Icelandic backpacker, Óli (Eyþór Guðjónsson), and go off in search of beautiful European women who want nothing more than to pleasure some (very sexist, and annoying at times) American boys. Their search leads them to a remote Eastern European town, where they stay in a too good to be true hostel filled with beautiful girls. The girls are there as bait. Soon, the boys find they are abducted and used as torture toys for rich businessmen, who have bought them, for the pleasure of killing them. They pay the most to torture Americans.
The premise behind this movie is truly sick, and also frighteningly believable. The idea that someone could pay enough money to buy a person to torture and ultimately kill is a scary one, and it’s easy to see what attracted Eli Roth to this supposedly ‘based-on-truth’ premise.
The first act of the movie is the most disappointing; in fact, it almost makes you want to give up on the film itself, which is to itself a disservice. It contains the few infamous softcore sex scenes, which serve little purpose except to titillate pubescent boys, and also introduce the three male characters. The Americans are difficult to like at first, with their ‘better than everyone’ attitude, but by act two their characterization has been developed a bit more. Jay Hernandez as Paxton carries nearly the entire second and third act, and becomes the hero/anti-hero of the film, and in the end, a very likeable one. The third act is slightly formulaic, but made all the better for it, as it goes down a route rarely seen in horror around this time.
As for the infamous torture scenes, well, they are certainly sadistic and graphic to watch. Of course, it all depends on your gore thresh-hold. I felt the gore was enough to live up to the hype without being completely gratuitous. Besides, the cruelty involved in the torture is bad enough that most people will only be peeking anyway. The editing cuts the gore down to flashes, rather than the long, lingering looks favoured by more nasty films.
The locations that Roth finds are superb, and amazingly creepy and twisted. Czechoslovakia and Prague are rarely used and are suitably unusual to emphasise the other scary part of ‘Hostel’, that Paxton and Josh are way out of their league and truly don’t belong in the worlds they are entering. When the bright, multi-coloured beauty of Prague gives way to the blacks, greys and dusty beiges that dominate the second half of the movie in Slovakia, it echoes the shift in the story’s attitude fantastically. It really makes you ask yourself where on Earth are these places and what are they being used for?
The film's release was accompanied by strong complaints from the country of Slovakia, and also from the Czech Republic. Slovak officials were disgusted by the film's portrayal of their country as an undeveloped, poor and uncultured land suffering from high criminality, war and prostitution, fearing it would "damage the good reputation of Slovakia" and make foreigners feel it was a dangerous place to be. The tourist board of Slovakia invited Roth on an all-expense paid trip to their country so he could see it is not made up of run down factories and kids who kill for bubble gum. Tomáš Galbavý, a Slovak Member of Parliament, commented: "I am offended by this film. I think that all Slovaks should feel offended."
Defending himself, Roth said the film was not meant to be offensive, arguing "Americans do not even know that this country exists. My film is not a geographical work but aims to show Americans' ignorance of the world around them." Roth has repeatedly argued that despite the many films in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ series, people still go to Texas.
Elite Hunting (the gang behind the abductions) main location is a gigantic torture castle which is just amazing to behold with it’s exterior and interior shots. I’m very pleased looking back that Roth didn’t go for the typical ending with this film. The scene where Paxton uses German to speak to his torturer is brilliant, and Roth makes great use of language. The movie is bleak, but at the same time amusing. A gang of children who will kill anyone for gum, for example is one of the lighter notes. Hostel, for me, was much better on second viewing, although on first viewing I wasn’t expecting the exciting escape attempts toward the end.
Watch it for its notoriety and flashes of brilliance, and also the great performance put in by Jay Hernandez.
Being a modern movie, Hostel looks great on DVD and is presented in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format. The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 and is uninspiring up until the scenes in the chamber, when the music silences and the sound effects take over. This whole sequence makes great use of the surround channels.
A documentary is featured on the disc and to make it easier to watch, it has been split up into smaller features. A decent insight into the making of the movie and is shown, and we also see how hands-on Roth was, and how small the crew was, in comparison to a larger budgeted movie.
The egotistical Roth has four commentary tracks featured on the disc, all including him. The first is Roth alone, which is interesting enough, the second is better as it features executive producer, Quentin Tarantino , who converses so well with Roth that you can really feel their friendship, the third is Roth and the other producers and the final one is with Roth and Harry Knowles of Aintitcoolnews.com fame. If you have the will to listen to all these in there entirety, good luck.