As part of a recent “torture film” craze that includes the wretched Saw movies and anything with Orlando Bloom in it, Hostel represents the kind of cinema that makes you wonder how such a repugnant film has any merit or value. There comes a time in a movie critic’s career when films like Hostel finally cross the line, have no appeal and render the critic fed up and ultra-disgusted.
Fortunately for me, that time has not yet come. Hostel is a good horror movie—with a better ending, it would be a great horror movie—by a guy who seems to know a little something about what’s scary in this world.
By the way, that guy is not Quentin Tarantino. The film has been marketed with the “Quentin Tarantino presents” banner, leading more than a few to believe that it’s his latest. Nope. He’s just a pal of director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), and he supposedly endorsed Roth’s sicko idea from the beginning. Hostel gives the impression that Tarantino and Roth watched the Saw flicks, decided they were for “pussies” and plotted their own take on the torture genre.
A couple of American tourists (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) are making the rounds in Amsterdam. One particularly sleazy fellow recommends a location in Slovakia where the girls are really hot. So, the boys trek to the hostel where, indeed, the women are not hard on the eyes and there’s actually a spa and continental breakfast. After a raucous night at a local disco, one of the boys wakes up bound to a chair, sharing the room with a masked sadist who plans to do some experiments on him.
I don’t want to give everything away; one of the film’s attributes is the slow revelation of what’s actually happening to its victims and how they’ve wound up in the torture chair. As for those torture scenes, they are quite brutal, and it’s surprising that the movie managed to get the R rating. If there’s an unrated version coming out on DVD later this year (and there probably is), watch out, because that will be one hellacious viewing experience. And don’t let your dog in the room while it’s playing. It’ll cause all sorts of issues.
Roth keeps the dark humor that helped make his bizarre Cabin Fever such a throwback delight. In the tradition of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, Roth supplies his movies with decent laughs and legitimate scares. I’m not calling Hostel a horror-comedy, because the moments of dread far outweigh the chortle inducers. But it has a sick underlying sense of humor that helps make this sort of film more tolerable.
What makes this movie so scary is Roth’s brazen confidence as a horror-film director. The man must be a pretty meticulous planner, because his film doesn’t feature flashy editing and cheap shocks. The scares are old-school and straightforward, sometimes making you wish for those cutaways; Hostel often can be a tough film to endure. As any torture film should be.
Perhaps with the box-office success of Hostel, the recent glut of PG-13 horror films will come to an end. Studios had become stuck in the trend of releasing pictures intended as R-rated films (Wes Craven’s Cursed, for example) with the safer rating in order to attract a younger audience. This made for “horror lite” at the theaters, with good scares hard to come by.
Hostel holds up until its final act, when it becomes a routine revenge thriller. But a good three-quarters of its running time, it’s one of the scariest movies in years. However, this isn’t the film to be watched before that annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam. You might find yourself canceling reservations and burning your passport before the credits run.