Dir. Eli Roth, US, 2005, 95 mins
Cast: Joy Hernandez, Derek richardson, eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova
Review by Matthew Rodgers
Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever was a major disappointment. A festival circuit favourite at the time of release it was a jumbled mess from a first time director struggling to focus his story amidst multiple genre strands. Drama, comedy and eighties slasher homage were all attempted but the only really successful elements were those of horror. A genre that has been diluted with such PG friendly fare as The Grudge in the modern cinematic climate but has now been aggressively resurrected by Roth’s sophomore effort Hostel.
Whilst travelling Europe before graduating to the real world and taking their bar exams, two Americans along with their Icelandic companion make the clichéd stop in Amsterdam to fulfil their hedonistic expectations. Paxton (Jay Hernandez) is the stereotypical American frat boy, all testosterone and sexually charged. His travelling partner Josh (Derek Richardson) is the antithesis of this, all nerves and trepidation. Late back to their lodgings one night they are offered shelter by a local resident who tells them of a Hostel in Slovakia where the women are particularly susceptible to the nomadic man as their own men are caught up fighting in a political dispute. Too good an opportunity to miss they change destination and travel to this utopian playground only to have their world ripped apart (literally) by what awaits.
To go into any more exposition about the movie would lessen the effect of the change of pace and tone that Roth introduces half way through the film. The setup of the characters and their traits is like watching a sequel to Road Trip, all [very funny] wisecracking dialogue and gratuitous nudity before the true nature of their doomed journey is set in motion. Establishing likeable, yet clichéd characters like Paxton in this way make his forced transformation to unwilling hero more empathic to the audience. Never sure whether we like his attitude to women, or his egotistical persona, come the horrific torture scene you will be on the edge of your seat hoping that he survives the next implement from the medical tray. Too many of the recent crop of horror titles have suffered by presenting the audience with uninteresting and dislikeable characters so we couldn’t care less if they survived or not.
The torture aspect of the film has been used as a shrewd marketing tool by the studio. It is a shame that to the uninformed this movie could be misinterpreted as a snuff movie or “torture porn” but it is indeed the leanest, tightest, and more importantly scariest horror film in years. Eli Roth doesn’t pander to his audiences’ needs, not afraid to delay the cutaway for a few more seconds to linger on the on-screen brutality, but this is what the genre is all about. When was the last time you watched the final third of a movie through your fingers? (Gigli doesn’t count)
Eli Roth appears to have found his niche in the horror genre. Not only is the film effective in terrorising the audiences’ senses and doing damage to countless cinema armchairs across the world but it also looks stunning. From the neon drenched nights of Amsterdam to the toy town aesthetics of the Slovakian town hiding some awful secrets. The torture scenes are expertly handled, manipulating the light to give glimpses of the horrors that lay within the walls. A particularly creative scene involves Paxton being dragged along a hallway with just the briefest looks into the depraved innards of the chambers.
Hostel will not be for everyone but it shouldn’t just be discounted as exploitation violence. It has some encouraging performances; Hernandez in particular is excellent as his sanity deteriorates. More importantly for a genre that struggles to be fresh and original, hence countless sequels to lacklustre films, it is a movie that truly deserves the “horror” tag in the old school sense of the word. Eli Roth, you most definitely have our attention.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of Hostel for 7th August 2006 priced at £19.99.
Offering the 'Unseen' version of the film features include:
- 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- English & Spanish DD5.1 Surround
- English, Dutch, Hindi, Portuguese & Spanish subtitles
- 4 Commentary Tracks:
- Director’s Commentary
- Director and Executive Producers’ Commentary with Quentin Tarantino
- Director and Producer’s Commentary
- Director and Guests’ Commentary with Harry Knowles from Aint It Cool News
- ”Hostel Dissected" Multi-Part Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
- "Kill The Car!" Multi-Angle Interactive Feature