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Hostel **½

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Jana Kaderabkova and Barbara Nedeljakova,
two of the more appealing aspects of Hostel.


Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson. Rated R.

To paraphrase Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins, there’s a fine line between sadistic and clever, and Hostel, the latest offering from Cabin Fever director Eli Roth, isn’t afraid to cross it. Cabin Fever, you will recall, was a fairly straightforward exercise in tastelessness, in which a group of attractive twenty-somethings ventured into the forest and promptly succumbed to a flesh-eating virus. Roth has matured as a filmmaker since then, developing a greater flair for the dramatic, but Hostel is no less cut and dried. It’s simple, exploitative brutality, masquerading as social satire.

Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson play Paxton and Josh, American buffoons scouring Europe for legal drugs and cheap women. They are accompanied by their Icelandic buddy, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), who delights in strangers that he’s shaved his privates for their backpacking trip. When a stranger points them toward a remote Slovakian hostel where gorgeous girls throw themselves at foreign travelers, they jump on the next train out of Amsterdam (where else?) to satisfy their carnal appetites.

And they’re not disappointed. The hostel is teeming with seductive sirens who have a convenient habit of misplacing their clothes, and before long Paxton and Josh are living out their wildest sex fantasies. The only problem? The mysterious disappearance of Oli, who drunkenly stumbles out of the hostel late one night and never returns.

It doesn’t take long for Paxton and Josh to figure out where he went. Soon enough, they too are trapped in dimly lit torture chambers, at the mercy of men with very different fantasies of the flesh. The rest of the movie is an unflinching collage of slicing, dicing and dismemberment, capped by a scene in which a young woman’s eyeball is ripped from its socket and cut off with a pair of scissors. Lovely!

There’s nothing particularly artful or subtle about the presentation of Hostel, though Roth’s brief, terrifying glimpses into the murky back rooms of his slaughterhouse set a chilling tone. Less effective are the movie’s menacing score, which constantly alerts us to the presence of great evil, and the gratuitous gore that is revolting, to be sure, but not necessarily frightening.

Perhaps that’s by design. In a nod to the Japanese shock cinema that inspired Hostel, Roth has made room for a cameo by Ichi the Killer director Takashi Miike, whose grisly depictions of extreme violence have often tested the patience of censors in his own country. Like Miike, Roth assaults us with a series of powerfully disturbing images, but to what end? To titillate? Or to make a serious statement about boorish Americans who view the rest of the world as some sort of playground where they can act out their deviant fantasies? There’s plenty of sex and violence in Hostel, and the movie strongly implies a connection between them, but it stops there. It espouses no discernible point of view, no perspective.

And yet it’s not all bad, either. There’s the inevitable scene when the survivors escape captivity and exact revenge on their tormentors, and it provides a neatly cathartic climax. Still, it’s not enough. Hostel is a wild ride, compulsively entertaining to the bitter end, but more than that, it’s vile and unnecessary.


* Note: Having recently seen Hostel posters plastered all over San Francisco, I find it more than a little misleading that Quentin Tarantino’s name gets top billing. Certainly, he deserves a lion’s share of the credit – as producer, he helped generate the finances necessary to make the movie, and having his name attached to this project must have made life that much easier for Roth. However, as a marketing strategy designed to attract fans of better, more palatable movies like Pulp Fiction and even the blood-soaked Kill Bill series, advertisements screaming “TARANTINO!” are a sham. This is not a Quentin Tarantino film. You’ve been warned.

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