|With a beginning that might remind one of an X-rated version of the raunchy 2004 film Eurotrip, Eli Roth's Hostel quickly changes that assumption once the decapitations start, the hacksaws come out, and the delirium begins. Scraping by just barely on its R rating (the DVD release will doubtless see a more graphic "director's cut" offered to the public), director Eli Roth doesn't so much shock the audience as knock it completely senseless with a never-ending onslaught of digit chopping, eye gouging and general malaise.|
Though the merits of the film will probably be seriously debated by devotees of the horror genre, Hostel would be an impressive experience for any viewer if seen under the right circumstances. Benefiting greatly from a large screen and a healthy sound-system, the film is best experienced in the large arena of a stadium-style theater where audience energy for the movie is high. Of course, true horror fans would probably relish a darkened living room and access to a frame-by-frame capable DVD player, but those viewers will probably have seen the film theatrically anyway.
This is the type of horror film that might immediately carry with it a cult following, definitely garnering a certain amount of viewer-ship from the plastering of producer Quentin Tarantino's name over the title (while director Eli Roth's name is placed on the movie poster in a much smaller font). As the single writer and director on the film, Roth's screenplay was pushed into production and released theatrically within twelve months, which is much swifter than the average film's journey from script to screen (even the fastest produced films usually take a year and a half).
Garnering mixed praise for his first horror film, 2002's Cabin Fever, Roth has not necessarily come into his own with Hostel, as there are still some flaws in the movie, but he's created a superior film in this genre. Although the film begins with the strange over-sexed sequence of three backpacking friends searching for a good hop in the sack while in Europe (Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, and Eythor Gudjonsson), one almost gets the sense that Roth seeks to poke fun at the way horror films are generally presented to the public: a cast of beautiful people with perfect anatomy and a habit of wandering around half-dressed while they're killed by someone or something.
And for the first reel or two, that's what Roth gives you. A film with an overabundance of topless women and beer-chugging college students. You exit the first act believing these three backpackers are going to suffer some horrible fate by wandering dumbly into dark rooms with sexy women at their side. But those assumptions are not just squashed, they're trampled once one of the backpackers goes missing and the two remaining friends attempt to find their lost traveling partner.
Beyond the simple visuals of the extremely graphic and bloody torture sequences, Hostel benefits from some great casting choices, with stars Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson both possessing a great ability to look and sound absolutely and completely terrified. Well, their profuse vomiting probably helps the situation, but both are able to offer up delightfully full-bodied screams of terror when something is cut off, a gun is held to their heads, or a chainsaw revs up.
Another very well done element of the movie is its soundtrack. Not just the circa eighties Eastern European dance songs that litter many of the scenes, but the actual sound effects created by the various torture tools and creaky doors of the old European buildings. Very piercing and loudly done. But if one were to place a complaint somewhere on the film, it would probably fall somewhere in the area of story and plot. The film's plot is actually quite less than razor thin, with the classic idea of "we're being chased by something and we need to escape" constituting most of the story.
But with the never ceasing torture visuals and the creepy as hell sound effects that accompany the clinking and clanging of all those knives, scissors and saws, this film's focus and purpose really isn't its story. Roth looks to have been more intent on scaring his audience to death than give them an intelligent screenplay that would be lauded for its ingenuity. Hostel is not an entirely new vision in its genre, though it is a vivid and entertaining departure from current trends in horror films.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.