Hostel (2006)

Starring Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Jan Vlasák, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderabkova

Directed by Eli Roth

Released by Lionsgate

You have to love a studio that markets a film with warning labels. As a horror fan, you just can’t ask for a better friend than Lionsgate, which has no qualms about pushing the envelope in these dark days of conservative cinema. With the release of Hostel, the studio not only continues its amazing track record, it also looks like they’ve found a champion in director Eli Roth.

Roth’s Cabin Fever – a quirky and mean-spirited slice of movie madness – was a strong debut film caught up in a whirlwind of pre-release hyperbole. It was greeted with wildly mixed reviews and a lot of negativity from serious-minded horror fans who had expected something different than the early buzz had suggested. Hostel, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether…one that should please both fans and detractors. While the former was tonally all over the map (which was part of its charm in this reviewer’s opinion), the latter balances all the elements of fear, dark humor, and exploitation while staying true to Roth’s eccentric nature.

Most importantly, it’s disturbing as hell.

Paxton and Josh (Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson) are two Americans on a backpacking trip across Europe with newfound pal Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) in tow. After a disappointing romp in Amsterdam, they get wind of a hostel located in Slovakia, one that promises wild parties and loose women; and the trio of horn-dogs quickly set off for a weekend of hardcore debauchery. And they find it.

Hostel delivers a bevy of hot European vixens (led by the stunning Barbara Nedeljakova) and all the eroticism promised in the first act (the “Roth girl” looks to trump the “Bond girl” – at least in my book). In fact, a good portion of the film is dedicated to working the audience into a sexual fervor alongside the characters. Your guard is down. And that’s when Eli drops the curtain.

What follows is an unrelenting ride through a world of torture and sadism, and this is where Hostel truly soars. True to his word, Roth creates some seriously twisted set-pieces, all of which are shocking to the max. However, despite a few moments of gory glee, Roth is smart enough to make the violence unsettling, and he does it by mixing both graphic and suggestive scenes. It’s a difficult balancing act, but Hostel does it with ease and makes you squirm in all the right places. Even though the victims aren’t particularly likable (they feel more like characters out of Porky’s), the trappings devised for them are so unbelievably cruel, they still manage to elicit our sympathies.

Of course, Roth is a horror geek at heart, and this time he expresses a deep love for Asian cinema (I caught a blatant nod to Suicide Club and the heavy influence of Takashi Miike). Yet, he carries a style that is unmistakably his own. Much like The Devil’s Rejects, this is a sophomore effort that shows another fan-turned-filmmaker emerge as one of horror’s most promising talents. 

4 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.