Some people can’t stand arrogant boldness and confidence. One of the best ways for a filmmaker to attract surefire criticism is to start blabbering about how great he is. How many can’t stand Quentin Tarantino or M. Night Shyamalan, not because of their movies but because of their loud-mouthed bravado? Personally, I have no problem with that, in part because to get your vision on the screen, you necessarily need to be sure of yourself and let others know it. And as Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
Which brings us to Eli Roth. In interviews, he sounds like a cool guy who’s full of contagious enthusiasm. Add Tarantino as an executive producer on “Hostel”, and there’s no stopping the over the top declarations between the two of them:
“That’s the scariest fucking idea I’ve heard for a horror movie in years!”
“I think Hostel will surprise even hard core genre fans!!”
“No one’s ever seen anything like this!!!”
I was ready to be blown away, which made it all the more disappointing when the movie failed to truly bring it. “Hostel” is not bad – in fact, it’s a rather potent nasty little B-movie, more or less on the level of the “Saw” flicks. That’s pretty good, and it should be enough for horror buffs… Just as long as they forget about Roth’s claims that he’s working on the level of Takashi Miike and Park Chan-Wook.
As the title suggests, “Hostel” takes place in the world of backpackers. We’re introduced to Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), two idiotic American college kids who come to Europe to smoke dope and bang chicks. With an Icelandic drifter (Eythor Gudjonsson) tagging along, they have some fun in Amsterdam but deplore the overabundance of tourists (what are they supposed to be?). So when they hear about a hostel in a small Slovakian town off the heavily traveled roads, they can’t wait to get there.
At first, it’s all good, with endless partying and countless promiscuous babes. Likewise, the film’s first half hour is a lot of fun. It’s like a parody of dumb teen sex comedies, with silly situations and almost non-stop T&A. The way I figured it, Roth was setting up these stupid horny dudes, intentionally making them obnoxious so the audience would later enjoy watching them get tortured and killed. Wrong. When all hell breaks loose, the movie drastically changes gears, the tone gets darker and we’re clearly not expected to laugh at these morons anymore. Suddenly, we’re actually supposed to feel bad for them, to be scared along with them, but they haven’t earned our sympathy, much to the contrary. Do we care about them dying or about them eventually getting revenge on their tormentors? No.
Hence, we’re left with horror for horror’s sake. Again, genre aficionados should be satisfied with that. It takes a while for things to really get flowing, but once they do it gets pretty damn brutal. If you’re fascinated with butcher work and chopped up corpses, this is the movie for you! But is this “the scariest fucking idea for a horror movie” or something “no one’s ever seen anything like”? Hardly. I don’t want to spoil the nature of the murders (though the marketing campaign does a fine job of spelling it all out), but let’s just say that it’s nothing fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best film aren’t familiar with.