Hostel (2005)

Hostel (2005)

Welcome To Your Worst Nightmare

Three teenagers on a backpacking trip around Europe head to Slovakia after hearing about a youth hostel where all of their wildest dreams will come true. However one of them goes missing not long after they get there and it’s not long before the trip turns into one that the survivors will never forget.

 

It’s about time that I reviewed Hostel because I saw it a few years ago and it’s been in my ‘to review’ list for ages. But it’s become such an influential film in the recent horror genre that I feel compelled to review it as soon as I can. Between this and Saw, the horror genre has been revived over the last couple of years and taken to a new direction of extreme with more violence and blood than ever before. Dubbed ‘torture porn’ or ‘gorenography.’ there is a new attitude towards horror flowing through the genre. It used to be all about subtlety and creating scares through what you don’t see. Nowadays, it’s all about being as graphic and as violent as possible. Whether you like them or not, Saw and Hostel have turned modern horror into a totally new breed of film. The ultra-violence has been always present in the genre, notably in the banned video nasties from the 80s but now it’s become main stream. Now there is an unquenching desire by filmmakers to keep pushing the boundaries with every new film because if they don’t, their film will look tame compared to the previous one. It’s an upward spiral of depravity that can be traced back to Hostel and Saw.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubting that Hostel is grossly overrated. But it’s not a terrible film and I’d certainly class it as one of the ‘must watch’ horror films of the 00s simply for how influential it has become and how far it pushed the mainstream cinematic boundaries. You wouldn’t think anything is amiss from the beginning, in fact totally the opposite. Running more like Eurotrip for the first half, the film introduces us to the three main male characters that are travelling through Europe looking for fun. All of your favourite genre clichés are here. It’s got annoying American teenagers. It’s got gorgeous, naked Eastern European women. It’s got drinking. It’s got partying. It’s got sex. The character development in this section is limited to your usual stereotyping of the three guys (frisky foreign guy, reserved American, etc). They’re all likeable enough if somewhat dumb and too one-dimensional.

So it comes as a bit of surprise when each of them is imprisoned and some are tortured and killed whilst others manage to escape. Who will survive? It’s not as clear cut as you may think. I guess this whole portion of the film is to give the characters some likeability for the inevitable slaughter that is to follow. It doesn’t do the job very well so the latter part of the film loses some of its impact because we don’t emotionally connect with them as much as should. When the film changes gears halfway through and ditches its silly take on American tourists in Europe, it starts to gather steam and a few things begin to make sense. The torture scenes are that nasty that it wouldn’t matter who was on the receiving end of them, they would still gain our sympathies.

It’s the second half of the film that has gained the most notoriety and rightly so. The torture scenes can be a little hard to watch during the first viewing, especially the infamous eyeball scene which is pretty hard to stomach no matter how many times you see it. Eli Roth lets his camera linger on the torture and up close and personal too. If it’s not pneumatic drills to the legs, it’s watching someone slice open the back of someone’s heel to take out their Achilles tendon – the gore is more unnerving and unsettling than out-and-out gory if you see what I mean. One of the more impressive tools that Eli Roth uses to shock us is sound. It’s such an underused instrument and I’m not just talking about being suddenly startled by loud noises on screen. I can still remember the harrowing scene in the Japanese Dark Water which utilized sound at almost heart-attack levels. The sounds of the slicing and dicing and the reactions of the characters in Hostel really add to the impact.

However, after all of the torture scenes, you get left feeling a little empty. There’s all of this sadism on screen but it all amounts to nothing when you analyze it a little closer. The script writes itself into a hole when all of the characters have been captured and there’s only one way out and that’s to feature plenty of contrivances, improbabilities and various plot twists and turns to help our survivors escape that will have you face palming. Once the gore and torture is over and Roth has left the audience gasping for breath, the only way is down unfortunately and the finale and ending are a little too weak and eye-rolling to really do the rest of the film justice.

 

Hostel is good but overrated. I’m not sure whether it’s because Roth is a genius or it’s just because the big sinister plot reveal midway through would work no matter who was at the helm. It’ll stay in your mind for a while after watching, that’s for sure.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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