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Hostel (2005)

In horror "wunderkind" Eli Roth's second feature film Hostel, a duo of foolhardy, Europe-traipsing, pleasure-mongering college graduates with marijuana in their lungs, pussy on their brains, and law careers in their future, are looking to get their groove on in what is infamously the grooviest of all European cities, Amsterdam. Realizing somewhere along the way that three's company too, the hedonistic American tourists, who are named Paxton and Josh, have teamed up with a like-minded debauchee from Iceland named Oli.

Inside a discotheque things begin looking up as Paxton and Josh whisper sweet nothings to a couple of local cuties. However, when Josh inadvisably draws attention to his dorky fanny pack by reaching into it to buy a round of drinks, the girls vamoose, which in turn, results in a stern lecture from Paxton. With frustration mounting, booze saturating his brain, and his fanny pack growing more burdensome by the minute, Josh then puts the moves on the wrong gal. A scrap with her Legolas look-alike boyfriend quickly escalates, and inevitably, our thrill-happy threesome gets tossed out of the club.

With but a little wind left in their once blustery sails, Paxton, Josh and Oli make haste to a nearby brothel. Once inside the garishly lit brothel, Oli and Paxton continue their haste-making ways, while Josh, who has some reservations about the whole prostitution thing, mills about, poking only his curious head into the occasional moan-filled room.

Afterwards, the guys return to the dingy hostel in which they are staying, but much to their chagrin, discover that they have been locked out. After pounding at the door and damning all of Europe, a rain of beer bottles from some sleepy second story neighbors send all three scampering toward an open window where a friendly lad named Alexi bids them welcome. Inside the cozy room Paxton, Josh and Oli listen attentively as their gracious and loquacious host gives them the jaw-slackening details about a Hostel in Slovakia where the girls are both beautiful and easy. This basic equation sends the boys packing, however, unbeknownst to them things are not quite as simple as they seem, and ultimately sex in Slovakia... just might equal death.

As much as I wanted to enjoy Hostel, I'm afraid I left the star-studded screening a little disappointed. One of my chief problems with the film was the characters; I simply did not like them very much. I am not entirely certain Eli Roth wanted his characters to be the stereotypical loud, obnoxious, ignorant tourists that are both a bane and an embarrassment, (and all too commonly from the United States) but if so, he succeeded admirably.

Yet, I am quite certain he wanted us to like his characters - at least on some very basic levels - but to a large degree I found this a difficult task. No, the characters do not do anything too terrible, (although the homophobic slurs they continually spout really wore on me) and certainly nothing that warrants the violence that befalls them. Nevertheless, not really liking or caring about the characters engendered a feeling of detachment towards them and the film, and as a result, the "horror" elements were rendered impotent, further reducing the "horrific" plight of the characters to the "ouch, that's gotta hurt" variety.

The film also appears to have some fairly interesting concepts, but in almost every instance Roth either abandons, undermines, or bungles his good ideas. For example, the impetus for Hostel was based on an actual website that frightened and disgusted Roth. In his words, 'People are sick. There are no limits to what they will do to another person for their own pleasure, and that's the most horrifying thing of all." This notion is central to Hostel - or at least half of it.

Though he never succeeds in translating the horror, disgust and contempt that he originally felt, and which reportedly spawned the film, Hostel does revolve around the concept of people indiscriminately using other people for their own pleasures - and for a short time, it works pretty well. Nevertheless, Roth completely contradicts, and by doing so, undermines his own central concept when he switches gears, making violence and death something to laugh and cheer about ( which isn't a problem in and of itself, it just doesn't work in Hostel). In one respect, this could be seen as a subversive move on Roth's part - revealing that the audience is also able to derive pleasure from the pain of others, (even if it is just imaginary suffering) and thus solidifying his view that "people are sick." However, based on his own comments in the Q&A that followed the film, and the fact that Hostel is riddled with conceptual inconsistencies and disappointments, to suspend my disbelief and call Roth and his film subversive would completely exhaust the little bit of generosity I'm saving for the latter part of this review.

Yes, the film lacks consistency, however, it is at times quite entertaining. In spite of Roth's claims that he wanted to create "a pure horror film - one that starts out fun, but gets darker and darker and never looks back and winks at the audience," Hostel does do a lot of winking, and the film's dark sense of humor, though contrary to aspects of Roth's "vision," was something I enjoyed about film.

Along these lines, the special effects from KNB were quite well done (as usual), even if Hostel is not nearly as over-the-top violent as its director seems to think that it is. Also, Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying, in reference to Hostel, "No one's ever seen anything like this," which is a quote someone with his vast knowledge of film should be ashamed to have uttered. Hostel's influences, which are substantially better films like The Vanishing, The Wicker Man, Audition, The Marathon Man, also stretches into the realm of violence, which is at times an ode to directors that range from the likes of Lucio Fulci and Park Chan-Wook. And, while Hostel won't "surprise hard core genre fans" (Roth again) it does aim to please fans of gore, and should prove a moderate success in doing so.

I would say that Eli Roth has improved as a director, although it could be argued that a substantially bigger budget and a seasoned film crew are to blame. Aesthetically Hostel is superior to Cabin Fever. The cinematography, art direction and locations all combine to create a great sense of atmosphere that elevates the film. In terms of the acting, there isn't really a bad performance, and as some of the actors had very little experience, I believe the director does deserve some credit.

I imagine I will probably be in the minority, but as you can easily tell, I did not enjoy Hostel very much. I think the film would be more enjoyable if it were not being advertised and lauded as this scary, depraved, ultra-violent horror film. Yes it's just about as violent as conservative studio films dare to be these days, yet it's truthfully just an average piece of popcorn entertainment that can be better appreciated if viewed as such. Lastly, if indeed Eli Roth aspires to, as he says, "push the envelope," I think he might have more success if he focused on a new career with the U.S. Postal Service and left the movie-making to the Asian filmmakers he graciously praises, and so desperately hopes to emulate.

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