At The Picture Show
'Hostel' territory: Horror flick has the chops, but wastes them
Lions Gate Films
Director: Eli Roth
Screenplay: Eli Roth
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barabara
Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderabkova, Jan Vlasak and Lubomir Silhavecky
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Opened January 13, 2006
(out of four)
Eli Roth's Hostel brings to the table the same kind of faux-edginess that
made both of the Saw movies so unbearably bad. Although, that being said, Roth
does so with considerably more skill.
And that's why Hostel is such an unfortunate
failure. It's clear he has the stuff to make a good horror movie. Already, he
doesn't take his material too seriously - a problem that singlehandedly ruined the
aforementioned Saw films. And there are a handful of really well done scenes in
Hostel. But Roth has also, unfortunately, fallen into an old trap, mistakenly
thinking that the harder he tries to gross people out, the more successful the movie
Let's just say his approach needs a little work.
For the first 30 minutes, Hostel seems to think it's a 1980s sex comedy. Two
recent college graduates - Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson),
along with their new pal, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) - are backpacking their way
across Europe, doing nothing but getting drunk and chasing skirt. Needless to say,
there's the requisite number of boobs.
Intentional or not, Roth does a bang-up job making sure we couldn't care
less what happens to these people. The expositional sequence gets really tiresome,
really fast. The monotony is physically painful. Even the sex comedies Roth tries
so hard to emulate aren't this redundant, and many of them at least try for some
Near the tail end of the practically endless opening sequence, our three
heroes happen upon a stoner, Alex (Lubomir Silhavecky) who tells them that the
best place to fulfill their wildest adolescent dreams is Slovakia. Alex insists that,
once the Slovakian girls hear those adorable American accents (are they really that
adorable?), they'll sleep with anyone. Nice.
But that sets in motion the more interesting
portion of the plot, as Paxton, Josh and Oli take up residence in a rather popular
hostel. At first, it seems Alex's promises were spot-on (I learned that one from the
British), as the guys all find attractive foreign seductresses to fool around with.
Until, that is, Oli goes missing, and then Josh ... leaving Paxton as our protagonist,
an unfortunate development because he is such a thoroughly uninteresting
character. In fact, every other character in the film is more fleshed-out, but Roth
chooses to stick us with this guy. And the misfires continue...
Needless to say, the hostel isn't all it appears to be. There are more
elaborate details that I'll leave for the viewer to find, but suffice it to say that there
is plenty of rather sadistic torture - including some quite lovely methods and
techniques - awaiting anyone unfortunate enough to get stuck in its underbelly.
Mutilation, anyone? Come on, Paxton, were you really going to use all five of
those fingers anyway? Be reasonable.
For pure horror fans, Hostel may deliver the goods. There's plenty of blood,
guts and gore - though early reports that this film really took it to the extreme
were grossly exaggerated. I've seen worse.
I'll give Roth some credit, though: The details
about the hostel/torture chamber itself - why it's there, how its inhabitants are
brought there - are darkly comical in quite an ingenious way. Unfortunately, Roth
still can't seem to get a handle on his material. There are excellent elements about
Hostel - but what Roth doesn't seem to understand is that really great horror
works because of the suspense factor. Yet that is the one thing Hostel is missing. It
has the wit, it has the blood, it has the gratuitous boobs - but there's rarely that
level of tension to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Further, Roth doesn't know quite what to do with his characters - in fact,
doesn't seem to know how to write real characters at all - and at one point in
Hostel, he throws in some phony sentimentality that just completely lost me.
Now with two feature films under his belt, Roth has promise, but needs to
mature as a filmmaker. His work has caught the eyes of such esteemed directors as
Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, so he's got that going for him. But as of
right now, he's relying on gross-out violence and shock value as too much of a
crutch. He would be well-advised, next time, to focus a little less on freaking out
the audience, and a little more on creating a story and characters we can actually
wrap our teeth around.
Read more by Chris Bellamy