Milda Jedi Havlas
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7th Aug 06
Sex, drugs, pain, torture and death from Eli Roth.
Some people don't want to give Eli Roth a chance. It may be because Cabin Fever didn't quite live up to expectations, that it wasn't the debut a debut should be. It may be because Roth, like Hostel's executive producer, Quentin Tarantino, is obviously a huge film fan, so much so that it shows. Some people might be hacked off with seeing a clichťd group of younglings become increasingly imperilled whilst basking in pleasures of flesh, booze and drugs. Some audiences may feel more inclined that contemporary Asian horror movies are more worthy of their valuable time on the proviso that they're getting something more highbrow or original when it's more likely to be just another scary-girl-with-long-hair-scenario. It's time to cut Eli some slack and look back to the West with a new hope; Hostel displays great promise.
Such a kick up the arse of the genre was witnessed last year with Rob Zombie's brutal Devil's Rejects, but this time it's a lot easier to tell right from wrong, good from bad. Three young backpackers (two Americans - Paxton and Josh, and Oli the Icelander) are travelling around Europe. Stopping to party in Amsterdam, a young man by the name of Alexi informs them of a hostel in Slovakia where they will find the hottest chicks they've ever seen. Not only are these women hot hot hot, but are certifiably desperate for sex. Sounds too good to be true?
Before long, the guys board a train, bound for a destination full of hope and lifelong fantasy. After an encounter with an over-familiar local businessman in the train compartment, they arrive at the hostel in Slovakia, pleasantly suprised to see that they're sharing with beautiful international babes. Alcohol, ecstasy, partying and sex promptly ensues as our characters live the dream, but the next morning Oli is missing. No-one is particulary helpful and while Josh is upset and concerned, Paxton just wants more sex, assuming Oli to be partying hard elsewhere. The next night, they go out with the girls for seconds, but instead what they get is the beginning of a nightmarish world of pain, suffering and death. Welcome to Hostel.
Before Hostel gets dark, it's funny. It's by no means groundbreaking or clever humour, but it gets a genuine giggle, which is good enough. Roth deftly sets up his characters in the first 30 minutes; Oli is a sex maniac, self proclaimed "King of the Swing", while Paxton is the least likeable of the group - loud and insensitive. Josh, on the other hand, is a bit of a drip - a little too sensible, naive even - you always have to have a sensible one, eh?. You could waffle on for ages about how such character dynamics appear stereotypical, but that's just a waste of time. Let's get to the nitty gritty of Hostel.
What happens next is a journey of survival at the hands of a company called 'Elite Hunting', who lure people to this part of the world to use them as human prey for their rich clientele. The hunters (though they don't 'hunt' as such, unless they've misplaced their scalpel / blowtorch / whatever) are given a human subject, cuffed to a chair, and can adminster whatever level and method of pain they choose. It can be as quick as a gunshot, or as slow as, well... use your imagination.
The violence in Hostel will shock most, and while non-genre enthusiasts writhe in disgust, seasoned horror fans should be equipped to easier digest the violence and then get creeped out by the psychological consequences. Gore isn't excessive in quantity but when it happens it has the desired effect, mostly down to the macabre context. Wild, brutal scenes will see some leave the theatre while others remain transfixed, just like I was. The reason they're transfixed is because there is hope for Paxton - this is his battle for survival. And red-blooded retribution.
Once the rollercoaster of Hostel begins, it follows a sinister, unflinching and disturbing path through a torrent of deeply unpleasant characters and unnerving situations. Most harrowing perhaps is Paxton's meeting with one of the company's clients, who is so overwraught with sick excitement that he can hardly articulate himself when trying to decide how much hell he is about to put his prey through. Strange it seems that this has as much impact - arguably more - than the conventionally violent scenes.
Is Hostel scary? The idea of such a den of sick pain existing anywhere is universally unsettling, and the prospect of being lured into such an environment under false pretences, in a remote, foreign location to die where no-one will hear your screams (even the police are in on it), is as sinister as it gets. The strong sense of East European, godforsaken location only serves to underpin this aspect of the picture; even the local police tell a worried Paxton, "You're such a long way from home."
Hostel did pretty much what I expected, delivering a hint of what is yet to come from Roth - the horror fan's director. If only they would just give him a break and let him come of age before dismissing him as shallow or over-commercial. This film will probably stay with you for a while afterwards, but hopefully not too long.