Hostel, directed by Eli Roth, is known as one of the most intense, disturbing, and gore-filled movies of the 21st century. Eli Roth is often credited with ushering in the wave of torture-heavy horror films that were popular in the 2000’s, with Hostel being a primary example of the genre.
The film starts with the simple premise of two college students traveling across Europe. They make a friend in Amsterdam and the trio embarks on a trip across Europe, filled with girls, drinking, and parties. However, things go horribly south as our trio finds themselves kidnapped by a mysterious group that charges customers to torture and murder their victims. A type of thrill-seeking for the mentally disturbed.
One would think that the scariest scene in a movie like Hostel would take place inside one of the torture chambers, filled with an array of weapons at the disposal of a sadistic madman. However, the scariest scene is anything but. In fact, all it involves is two men in a locker room having a conversation.
The scene takes place during our main character’s escape. After escaping from his torture chamber, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) is trying to find a way out of the facility. Still unsure of what is going on, he takes the elevator to the top floor.
He’s let off the elevator and walks into what appears to be a locker room. While there, he stumbles upon an American customer (Rick Hoffman). “How was it!?” the customer excitedly asks Paxton when he notices him in the room. Paxton, finally somewhat aware of what is going on, realizes that the man has mistaken him for a fellow customer. The American Customer then spouts a disturbing monologue, telling Paxton how psyched he is to torture and kill his victim; saying he’s bored with the same old “strip clubs and whorehouses” and needs to take it to the next level to satisfy his thrills. Even though the situation is horrifying, Hoffman gives a somewhat comedic performance, chewing the scenery with his over-the-top mannerisms. We almost want to chuckle at his eager and enthusiastic nature.
Although it is Hoffman that steals the scene, Jay Hernandez gives an exceptional performance as well. His facial expression is that of true terror as he realizes how deranged the man he is speaking to is. “Make it quick” is the heartbreaking advice he manages to give to the customer. He knows that whoever is going to face this man is doomed and wants to make it as quick and painless as possible.
This scene works for multiple reasons. The first is the most basic. We’re invested in Paxton making his escape and do not want him to get caught. We’ve seen how deranged the facility he is in truly is and if he gets caught we know his fate is certain. Each question that the client fires off, we’re hoping and praying that Paxton gives a convincing answer as he’s literally lying to save his life.
The irony of the situation is what makes it truly horrifying. Here we have a madman ranting about how he wants to torture and murder his victim, but he’s talking about it as if he’s trying to get advice on what workouts he should do. The reason the scene works so well is that it puts us in the presence of a killer when they’re not killing. He’s not some unbelievable evil scientist trying to take over the world or a supernatural madman stalking teenagers. He’s simply a man who is bored with life and to satisfy his thrills, he’s willing to participate in some of the most horrific acts imaginable.
If you listen to Eli Roth interviews you’ll often hear him talk about the minutiae he wanted to inject into Hostel. In fact, he’s credited Quentin Tarantino with putting this idea in his head. This minutiae is what separates Hostel from the other torture-heavy horror movies of the 2000’s. Small details are what make the killers all the more human. Having locker rooms, asking advice from fellow customers, and bidding for customers as if they’re participating in a charity raffle, makes Hostel more disturbing than any gore-filled massacre ever could.
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