HOSTEL. 2006

Director: Eli Roth

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

If Hostel (2006) had not been well-advertised as a horror film, it would seem to be, for the first half hour, a well-budgeted mainstream tale of two American lads (Jay Hernandez & Derek Richardson) backpacking in Europe, achieving a rewarding friendship with an Icelandic backpacker (Eythor Gudjonsson), & simply having a wonderful non-stop party across the continent.

In the second third of the film, however, things go seriously wrong for the lads. They are talked into going off the well-travelled routes to visit a hostel in Slovakia where, they are promised, the girls are so beautiful, & so starved for tourist action, that they'll end up treating handsome young boys from America & Iceland like gods.

So in quest of more sex than they could get anywhere else in Europe, they're off to the hinterland, where at first everything seems to be exactly as promised. The hostel is more like an upscale hotel, except that there are no private rooms, & even that's great since the three young men have no choice but to share their room with gorgeous girls.

All too soon the Icelandic fellow has disappeared. The American lads make every effort to find out what happened to their friend. They'll eventually find out, & it won't be pretty.

This develops into one of the two or three most serious & most graphically brutal slasher films of all time. Yet it only barely seems like an exploitation film because it doesn't focus on the slaughter of either overly made-up screaming harlots, or girls who get kililed because they aren't virgins. The lives of victims do matter, though we do also get an extended sequence with one of the most effective "scream kings" in all slasherdom.

Included in the scream king's primary sequence is a "torture of hope" interlude when he's momentarily given the impression he might actually be able to crawl to safety, straight out of the classic conte cruel "La torture par l'esperance" (1883) by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam (Vil-yur day lizzly uh-dahm), available as an English language e-text Here.

The primary & most graphically conveyed vicitms are the young men, who have been baited to the hostel from which they will be kidnapped one by one, taken to an abattoir or slaughterhouse which has been turned into a profoundly filthy sort-of-a-brothel for wealthy businessmen whose fetish is torture & murder.

Clients pay well to be given a victim firmly bound to an iron chair, ready to be carved to pieces either swiftly or slowly according to the clients' tastes. We are introduced first to a well-practiced client of the slaughter brothel, & later a novice who seems unsure of what he's doing though eager to learn.

This whole set-up is unfortunately quite convincing. In the "real world" there exists an international sex trade that services pederasts & can provide an endless supply of children of any age, & such an evil environment certainly wouldn't be above servicing clients whose perversion was murder.

Indeed, director Eli Roth originally intended to do a documentary about just such a killers-bordello in Southeast Asia. He soon realized that if he ever managed to meet up with the criminals involved in this rarified portion of the sex industry, he'd risk becoming a victim. So his energy went instead into this fictional account.

One thing graphic gore films too often forget is the necessity for a hero. Everyone's a victim & if anyone happens to survive, it's only for the sake of a sequel. The structure of the films & nature of the genre delights in the fantasy of slaughter & it really doesn't matter if anyone survives or not. But a film that ends with everyone including the point of view character killed is not generally the most satisfying.

Eli Roth knows better. The last third of Hostel is seriously about fighting back & striving to escape. This is a structure worthy of imitation & we'll likely see several copies in the near future: One-third of a film introducing primary characters & giving them vitality & interesting traits in their own right; second third about the sorts of slasher-horrors such as would provide the climax of most such films; & the final third essentially a lengthy bloody chase sequence worthy of a more mainstream sort of thriller.

I really liked this film. The violence of it is truly disturbing; we really feel for the victims; we root for the hero; & yet we get the full dose of Texas Chainsaw mindless mayhem which is obviously essential or this genre wouldn't exist in the first place. Hostel shows human depravity in tandem with a capacity to rise bravely above the most horrific occasion. One need only follow the daily news to know that depravity & bravery are actual human capacities.

As an aside, I love in-jokes, & was tickled to see Eli's fellow director Takashi Miike in a cameo role. It makes me wonder what other little inside jokes I may have missed.

As a second aside, the story is sufficiently open-ended to imply the possibility of a sequel, probably about a killer of killers hunting down members of the club who have marked themselves with a wolf tattoo for ease of recognition. Part of me hopes the effectiveness of Hostel is not diminished with a franchise. Another part of me looks forward to it.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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