*Check my previews post in the series to read my overall opinion on Eli and his movies*
[THIS REVIEW WILL INCLUDE SOME SPOILERS]
Often regarded as Eli Roth’s magnum opus, Hostel revolves around three backpackers (two American guys and an Islandic dude) who travel around Europe. During their time in Amsterdam (in The Netherlands), they’re told by a seemingly clueless guy that they have to go to Slovakia if they want to find chicks who are DTF. Following the guy’s advice, they end up in a hostel in Slovakia, where their dreams of banging horny lads turn unexpectedly into nightmares.
Unlike Cabin Fever, Hostel is a highly polarising motion picture: some love it, some hate it; mainstream horror fans consider it the hardest movie to stomach they’ve ever seen, ‘hard-core’ horror fans consider it mainstream garbage.
What the latter group – all these groups of people, for that matter – seems to forget is that Hostel might not be as graphic as other underground horror films, but it sure is more intense and believable than most of those movies. In other words, Hostel shows graphic violence and some eerie content without losing believability. It’s both an “entry level disturbing flick” and a very good, original horror movie.
Let me try to explain my statements. Eli Roth, still quite inexperienced as a director back in 2005/2006, took inspiration from Takashi Miike to structure his movie into three acts: build-up, shit hits the fan, climactic ending. Roth’s even given a hilarious cameo to Miike himself! (photo).
Thanks to said structure, Hostel keeps increasing the unnerving feeling it delivers from beginning to end. From the get-go, you know as a viewer that something is off, but what’s really going on hits you hard from the second act.
This movie, which is somewhat responsible for the term “torture-porn”, has also a very clever way to present the torture: when Josh (the responsible guy) is captured by the shady and sick organisation that allows people to torture and kill other people for money, his ordeal plays with the viewer’s imagination. Nearly everything Josh goes through is suggested, never shown on screen. This clever technique increases the disturbing feeling the movie delivers, making great use of the good old “the less you see, the scarier”.
During the last 30 minutes of Hostel, however, the violence is presented on screen in its full glory: and it sure isn’t disappointing! The guys from KNB EFX Group are responsible for the gory effects and they did a fantastic job, since everything is crafted through genius practical effects and no CGI. The sound design, kept to a minimum during the torture scenes, helps a lot in maintaining a high level of believability and creating an atmosphere that can be genuinely scary. The greedy, realistic look and feel throughout Hostel also plays a fundamental role in terms of giving a mean-spirited vibe to the whole experience.
Working towards the ultimate revenge, similarly to a 70s exploitation movie, Hostel indeed settles with an ending that’s extremely climactic and fulfilling: the bad guys get what they deserve in the most satisfactory way possible. Sure, some killings by the only survivor (Paxton) seem a bit implausible – like, how convenient that he came across the two girls who fucked him over when he was escaping from the organisation, right? Nevertheless, you can easily overlook these inconsistencies because the rest of the movie never goes too over-the-top.
Except, perhaps, the first 20-25 minutes, by far my least favourite part of Hostel. Even if we overlook the obvious mistakes (like that people who are supposed to be Dutch actually speak German), the three main characters are, again, your horror stock characters (the cocky dude, the responsible guy and the weirdo). The dialogue between them, which solely revolves around having sex and scoring some pot, is uninteresting and unimaginative. It might seem like a minor complaint, but if you don’t care for the characters (i.e. if they’re not interesting) what happens to them affects you less, which makes the movie less impactful than it could have been.
Besides, there are other tiny flaws and goofs you can find throughout the runtime of Hostel: for instance, when the one street kid throws a stone onto the man’s head from the window, you can see blood on his head before the stone hits him. Another one happens when Paxton gets locked up in a club for the entire night and, in the background, you can hear only one song playing for hours… do Slovakian clubs play only one song throughout the night? How boring…
Nevertheless, despite a few flaws, Hostel delivers and, in a way, it’s responsible even more than Saw for the popularity of ‘torture-porn’ within the horror genre, in the 2000s. It’s a greedy, entertaining and intense film, which also deals with some inner fears (for example, the theme of being away from home and in a foreign, scary country, plays a big role).
Hostel (2006) 8.5/10
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My review is also available on IMDb – Hostel (2006)