Hostel (2006)

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

Directed by Eli Roth

The prominent blurb on the US Hostel poster declares that Eli Roth’s latest feature is the scariest American film to be released in the past 10 years… I’m disappointed to say that I have to disagree. In fact, I didn’t find Hostel to be very scary at all and have been back and forth about how I really feel about it. In the end, I’ve found my ambivalence stems from the fact that in a story about suffering, the true victim isn’t one of the movie’s characters, but the movie itself.

Touted as a nod to the subtly bold and visceral success of recent foreign horror, I’m very confused as to exactly how Hostel lost its way. As you travel with Josh, Paxton, and Oli from Amsterdam to Slovakia, lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, you can catch glimpses of a more monstrous spirit lurking throughout the movie. Lurking, but never really unleashed. Hostel has more potential than it obviously realized and could surely have lived up to its lofty blurb, but ultimately, the desire to truly frighten and disturb its audience is sapped by an indulgence in quirky, almost cartoony schtick and an overabundance of plot construction.

I’m all about a solid mix of humor and atmosphere (someone get me a “Sneepur Patrol” tee stat!), titillation and terror, but overall Hostel just isn’t capable of finding common ground for all those moods, and instead of a whole there’s just a number of parts that don’t find a way to come together comfortably. What worked so well in Cabin Fever has become a burden to its follow-up.

After spending a little too much time yukking it up in Amsterdam, the arrival in Slovakia brings more banter and hijinks along with an unbelievably fortuitous pair of sex kitten roommates who proceed to lavish the lucky threesome with some serious attention. Eventually the fact that our heroes seem to have stumbled into a real life version of the Resident Evil 4 town becomes, little by little, more apparent. Still, the pacing plods and the mood remains tepid.

It’s unfortunate that the seeds of paranoia sewn by an unusual encounter on the train to Slovakia and the bleak, alien quality of its starkly foreign landscape are diminished by more overt wackiness and disjointed asides. An unlikely gang of thuggish grade school children is interesting and amusing, but they’re immediately detectable as a plot device that has yet to be utilized. Josh and Paxton’s visit to a torture museum feels exactly the way it should not; like an obvious prompt for the audience to prepare itself for the real thing.

When the shit finally hits the fan, Hostel does its best to step up to the plate and is able to generate some mild tension and a vague sense of hopeless panic. The remainder of the movie does its best and admirably delivers healthy doses of gore and ickies, but any slack picked up in part by a wonderfully gooey bit of eyeball violence and some well timed just desserts is lost in a bout of vengeance overkill that feels tacked on, leaving only a quiet path to the inevitable open ending.

Ironically, Takashi Miike’s cameo provides a line of dialogue that had me wondering what might have been if Roth had thought about that line and taken its advice to heart while crafting Hostel. I think that perhaps he wasn’t careful enough, and what could have been a sickening 180, a jarring express trip from pleasure to pain, is only a slow speed turnaround that doesn’t hold nearly enough of the sucker punch I was hoping for.

3 out of 5

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