Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #340
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: September 17, 2005 (Toronto International Film Festival), January 6, 2006 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Extreme Exploitation
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $80,578,934
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Eli Roth
Producers: Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel, Mike Fleiss, Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Eli Roth
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero
Visual Effects: Robert Kurtzman
Cinematography: Milan Chadima
Score: Nathan Barr
Editing: George Folsey, Jr.
Studios: Revolution Studios, Beacon Pictures
Distributor: Screen Gems
Stars: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jan Vlasák, Jana Kaderabkova, Jennifer Lim, Keiko Seiko, Lubomír Bukový, Jana Havlickova, Rick Hoffman, Petr Janis, Takashi Miike, Patrik Zigo
Suggested Audio Candy:
Nathan Barr Hostel
To this day I still wonder whether the Slovakian tourist board has forgiven Eli Roth for the knock-on effect of his world-renowned sophomore feature Hostel. Roth pleaded to the Icelandic president for a pardon for his film’s depiction of one of his characters as a drunken sex-driven buffoon and was granted his wish. But what of Slovakia? It is viewed as one of the most picturesque countries in Europe and also one of the few that remains uncolonized by the British. For as much as it may seem like an idyllic location for vacationing, it never particularly appealed to me. That is largely because of Hostel.
Roth’s 2002 global hitter Cabin Fever was unanimously well received and Quentin Tarantino was so enamored by him that he took on production duties and gave his official seal of approval to the project. As a result of his involvement the film enjoyed widespread distribution and pulled in over $80m in revenue. Since then, Tarantino and Roth have pooled their resources on numerous occasions and that is remarkably good news for horror. Timing was also key as Hostel arrived reasonably hot on the heels of James Wan’s Saw and continued the trend for new-age exploitative cinema. Eventually, some numskull came up with the term ‘torture porn’ and I loathe this inaccurate and crass moniker. Ironically, Roth’s movie features both repeated torture and borderlines porn also but never the twain meet.
Hostel is the epitome of a game of two halves. For the first half of proceedings you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a frat boy movie. We are introduced to three hedonistic backpackers, Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez), and his best friend Josh (Derek Richardson) along with newly acquainted Icelandic tag-along Óli (Eythor Gudjonsson) are shown living it large in Amsterdam’s red light district before getting wind of Bratislava, a place filled with Amazonian women with precious few men to satisfy their needs. Should you offer a shrew a slice of cheddar then it will invariably ignore the giant metal mechanism straining to snap its rejoinder and fill those cheeks for all they’re worth. Paxton, Josh and Óli just can’t resist a nibble.
After finding their digs and checking in, they happen across Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova) and Svetlana (Jana Kaderabkova) already camped in their quarters. From hereon in things begin to take a distinct turn for the worse as absolutely nothing is as it appears. This is where Roth subverts genre and shows us just why he has booked us reservations in the first place. If you have been enjoying the road trip up until this point then I would recommend National Lampoon’s European Vacation. However, payback fiends are in for an almighty treat for the entirety of Hostel’s closing act.
Once Roth begins to turn those screws, any memories of soapy rubdowns and all-over body massages become a fading distant memory. Inevitability is the key word as our hapless travel buddies are in no way likely of gaining a pardon. The reason for this is that they are little more than contestants on a particularly dubious game show which has a far more wide-reaching client base than is encouraging. Our survivor isn’t simply reactive like the kids from Cabin Fever, instead he makes a number of moral choices which help us to identify with him as a protagonist. What he is forced to endure is horrific in the extreme, but Jay Hernandez gives us more than enough reasons to root for his safe passage.
Black comedy plays a significant part in proceedings and laughter is prevalent throughout although, admittedly to a lessening degree as we reach survival horror territory. The scenes of suffering are understandably vulgar but Roth shows remarkable restraint and never wallows in the grue, instead making his bloody point and moving swiftly on. If wallowing is what you’re after then look no further than Hostel Part II, whose scythe scene alone will be one particular bath you’ll never want to climb out of. When the effects come courtesy of Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman, you’re guaranteed majestic gore and Hostel delivers in spades.
The great Hostel debate still rages on years later. While Scott Spiegel’s serviceable third needn’t even figure into the equation, many still consider the original to be the creme of this crop. On the contrary, I actually believe that Hostel Part II edges it and adored the way that Roth turned things entirely on their head second time out as, while lacking ambiguity, the introduction of clients sitting with their families as they bid on kills hit its horrifying point home even further. However, the original still laid the tracks. The Saw series may well have been the one to spawn annual sequels and rake in over $450m in North America and Canada alone but I’d still buy my little boy a tricycle. I wouldn’t, however, go backpacking in Slovakia.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The wonderfully realized grue is copious and there are numerous highlights to be discerned. Eyes are carved from their sockets and left dangling from optic nerves like a fleshy swingball, tibia are callously cut, limbs removed, and we receive good reason never to trust a selfie. As for peccati della carne, it’s everywhere you look. Titties to the left, bush to the right, buttocks from wall-to-wall but, before you go packing your rucksacks, remember it’s not always how it appears in the brochure.
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