I am going to begin this post with a bold assertion. Eli Roth is the David Mamet of horror films. This would require some heavy defense were it a statement to suggest that Roth's works have the rapid fire impossibly on point dialogue of Mamet's works, but instead, suffer from the same sickeningly "post-feminist" belief that to be a male of well-to-do status means that you are in some notable way suffering and that the entirety of society, or the forces of nature are systematically working against their diminishing privilege. Think about the absurdity of something like The Edge, wherein Anthony Hopkin's character must fight off bears and severe weather all because he had a foolish notion that he could tame the wilderness, never mind the overarching suggestion that he feels quite guilty about the killing of Native populations (in that he does not). I want to suggest here that while far less keen with its dialogue, and decidedly less gripping than say Glengarry Glenn Ross, Eli Roth's Hostel wants to make viewers suffer and relate to a group of individuals who for all intents and purposes have not point of suffering aside from placing themselves into rather foolish situations. Indeed, they are incredibly exploitative and perfect images of unchecked consumerism. In fact, I want to extend my frustrations with this film a step further and suggest that this is a quantifiable reason to be concerned with providing a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino unadulterated praise. The producer of this film, Tarantino also suffers from his own problematic relationships with justifying white male privilege and, with the exception of Jackie Brown, his attempts to challenge this tradition often fall flat and become wildly ill-conceived. It is only fitting that he would jump at an opportunity to produce this film, it is narratively in line with his own act of making the absurdly impossible suffering of the well-off seem palatable. Hostel is not a good movie, it is not even really a decent movie. It is not because of its choice of graphic material, it is actually surprisingly tame in this respect, but is purely frustrating because at no point does this violence or exploitative nature move into a realm of considerable social critique. Hostel is a textbook example of everything that is wrong with contemporary horror films, precisely in the belief that a narrative deserves justification by existence alone.
Hostel focuses on a group of young men who have taken it upon themselves to backpack across Europe for no other apparent reason than to smoke a lot of pot and have as much sex as possible. Paxton (Jay Hernandez) is the unofficial leader of the group, using his suave nature to help them navigate spaces, where as Josh (Derek Richardson) seems more inclined to simply passively move through the various spaces, spending much of his time in Amsterdam bemoaning an ex-girlfriend and starring at the scenery. The duo also gains the friendship of the Icelandic wild man Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) who helps them to gain access to spaces previously deemed inaccessible. It is through Oli and the help of a Russian man named Alex (Lubomir Bukovy) that they are made aware of a hostel in Slovakia known for its libertine ways. The three jump at the opportunity taking the very next train to the country. On the way there they meet an unusually friendly gentleman with a penchant for eating with his hands, who also sings the praises of the town, before becoming a bit too intimate for Josh's liking. Upon arrival the space is exactly as described, a veritable land of sex and drugs, wherein the trio immediately find women to hook up with in their very own room at the hostel. However, after a night of drug use, Oli goes missing, leading to a quest to find him, one that reveals that the Slovakian town is a bit darker and less welcoming than initially believed. Yet, it is not until Josh goes missing that Paxton truly becomes worried and when he is taken to an art show, by one of the women he had been sleeping with, he discovers a dark underbelly to the idyllic space, wherein individuals pay large sums of money for the ability to torture, then kill, living humans (Americans fetching a higher amount than other persons). After being maimed via having a few fingers cut off, an accident on the part of the torturer affords Paxton a chance to escape, saving a fellow member of the Hostel in the process. Using his masculine privilege he is able to escape the space and eventually make it to a train station, at which point the woman in tow realizes the damage done to her face, thus leading to her committing suicide on the tracks, incidentally not proving enough to stop the trains from running. On this train, Paxton realizes a member of this torture group is present, leading to his killing the man before returning to the train for an assuredly long ride home.
One of the major elements of any survival horror film is the necessity of having a character for with which the viewer can empathize. At times this can work on a very specified level, as is the case in the always problematic sub-genre of rape revenge horror films, such as I Spit On Your Grave or in cases the nature of the film affords many survivors of varied identities in the case of most zombie films. In even rarer cases the nature of the filmmaking and the earnestness of the performance allow for a reliability to a hyper-specified identity as occurs with Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. I would argue that this really does not work for Hostel, because the characters created by Eli Roth are merely extensions of Eli Roth, or the very selective set of filmmakers who seem to have taken an unwelcome control over the horror genre over the past decade. The male characters in the film, again are inhibiting their own demise by entering spaces riddled with drugs and crime and, assumedly, engaging in rampant and perhaps unsafe sex. If the threat of their demise at the hands of maniac murderers is intended to be jarring to viewers, it is only in a sense that a person watching the film would not find all of their previous behavior absolutely disgusting. Indeed, they move through the space of the film consuming and taking as they please at no point seeming even slightly apologetic, but that does not stop Roth from distinguishing his characters on some moral high ground, either making them vegetarians to denote their higher sentience, or giving Paxton the ability to be bilingual as to make him slightly "less American" when it proves absolutely beneficial. Furthermore, to make the degree of empathy work, there really has to be a build of suffering and a moment of realization on the part of the protagonist that never comes at any point within Hostel. Paxton is always a bit too aware of the situation and fortune really favors his every endeavor, never once getting caught in a truly threatening situation once he is able to free himself from without a challenge. Mind you he breaks out of a chained chair, saves a half-blinded woman and dodges a ton of guards and torturers without even a semblance of trouble, only to use previously threatening village children to his advantage, never mind a lack of authority and explanation to the outcome of any events. Roth seems aimed at shocking viewers into intrigue, but manages to forget that intrigue must be established at all points, before any sort of disgust or jarring work might emerge.
Key Scene: The eye removal scene may well be the only well-executed thing in this entire film, in that it was completely grotesque.
AVOID THIS MOVIE, not because it is gross, but because it is bad.