“Hi! I’m Eli Roth, I’m that film school reject people like Quentem Tarantino and Takaki Miike are saying is a genius! I make moving pictures, moving pictures that really suck, but see people don’t know that, because I just pass it off as art, and then my mentor pats my head, critics praise me, complacent horror fans worship me, and I disappear in to my house.” There were two movies that came out in 2005, two similar attempted nihilistic horror entries that were both very gory, very unique, and made at the displeasure of the MPAA, and both struck chords with horror fans. Except this one.
Both much talked about horror films “Wolf Creek” and “Hostel” feature backpacking tourists getting more than they bargained for in the form of foreign horrors, both are overrated, and obscenely over-hyped entries, and brutal disappointments. One more so than the other. “Hostel” is a limp second outing for Eli Roth, and after his overrated, and much despised (by me) film “Cabin Fever” I had serious doubts this would be any good. Now, my positive comments are 99 percent of the time reserved for above, but I must say, it’s not as bad as “Cabin Fever” was. I wasn’t fidgeting, groaning, and looking for ways to kill Roth, but I wasn’t thrilled either. Because I wasn’t impressed at all. I mean, does Roth actually think he’s showing us something we haven’t seen a thousand times before?
Cut off toes? Nah. Drilled eyeballs? Nah. Cut Achilles’ tendons? Gross, but nah. S&M? Nope, seen that done too. Call me warped, but I just haven’t been in a cave with my eyes closed for the last twenty-two years. My reason for not liking “Hostel” is much more different this time around. With “Cabin Fever” I knew I’d seen a mental retard showing everyone how much gore he could fit into ninety minutes, with “Hostel” he shows us gore, it’s just gore we’ve seen done a million times with a better effect. Everyone says the first half of the film is like “Eurotrip”: comedic, and innocent, but as lame as that was, it was funnier than this. No, it’s not part “Euro-Trip” the first half is just normal build-up to the actual plot. There are three guys going backpacking across Europe and travel to different sex clubs, that’s basically all of the exposition Roth gives the audience.
And it’s not all suspenseful, I mean you go deep enough in to the seedy world of sex, you’re bound to get yourself hurt badly. It’s just common sense. These guys aren’t really deep personalities, these are just three vapid college guys who let their packages get the best of them. Roth makes a desperate attempt to provide characterization as Hernandez’ character Paxton tells a redundant story about how he watched some girl drown years before, which then becomes a plot device for the climax. “Hostel” is surprisingly much more watchable than “Cabin Fever” was, because it has an interesting concept that I was fascinated with, and I wanted to actually see where the film was going. I was surprised to see that Roth doesn’t paint the last half of the film with gore and torture non-stop.
The torture is shown, but only for a short while, and he attempts to build tension beyond that. The film is filled with dread with atmosphere and beautiful special effects courtesy of Greg Nicotero who relishes in showing some brutal torture that while minimal is still cringe-inducing. The Achilles tendon scene got to me more than anything. Meanwhile, the references to better horror films are this time placed just right (chainsaw wielding maniac slips and falls cutting himself, you do the math) and are used with very good resource. And Jay Hernandez gives a good performance as the backpacker Paxton who must fight his way out of the Hostel. He’s always been a good actor, just underrated. Yet in spite of the minor positives, like Roth’s films thus far, you can explain the plot in one sentence. Guys backpacking, come across a torture house they’re fooled in to thinking is a brothel and get maimed.
Roth creates his films like a frat boy’s wet dream: sex, booze, drugs, and blood. And there’s also much homophobia. Like “Cabin Fever”, Roth displays his deliberate homophobia through his characters. The main characters take Josh on the trip to get him laid, they accuse him of being gay often, he gets in to gay situations, and Paxton always says “That’s so gay”. If that line is an attempt at a trademark signifying that you’re watching a Roth film, then Roth is as dumb as I thought. He also displays his sophomoric humor as well. An ass painted as a face, pot jokes, and crazy misunderstandings make up for the levity he attempts to push on the audience, but I never really laughed at all. Meanwhile the dialogue is sometimes bad, but mostly standard. Guys talking about sex, guys discussing sex, guys musing on sex, guys ooh-ing and aah-ing at hot foreign chicks and the guys eventually begging for their lives. The final thirty minutes are basically dialogue free with Hernandez’ character Paxton just attempting to save himself.
Sadly, though not surprising, Roth never explains the actual point of the story. Is it a warning about the seedy sex world? Foreign countries? Or just about how curiosity can kill the cat? Was the torture an inadvertent part of the vacation they weren’t aware of? Or did this village snare them in to a trap? Knowing Roth, it’s neither. Just a masturbatory exercise in torture. Ultimately, it’s crap, but it’s watchable crap. The film actually drew me in, and I was interested, and it’s certainly better than “Cabin Fever”, but in the end it was under-whelming, derivative, and very stereotypical. This is routine Roth as usual. Homophobia, attempted nihilism, vapid writing, paper thin plot, and nonsensical all the way. So, while I disliked this a lot less than “Cabin Fever”, I’m still waiting to see the greatness people talk about when referring to Roth.