It has been two years since Eli Roth released his first feature film Cabin Fever (three if you count festivals). Right off the bat I’m going to tell you that I didn’t love Cabin Fever, but I felt that Eli had so much potential- but soon after the screenings of 2001 Maniacs, a dark cloud started to surround Eli’s future and buzz filled the air with rumors that Eli wasn’t what he was all cracked up to be (even though he only produced the pic and didn’t direct it). But let me tell you that his second feature film Hostel, while not perfect, is a strong step in the correct direction and a still a fuckin’ hoot of a good time!
The film follows a trio of friends who are backpacking across Europe checking out all of the sites. Paxton (Jay Hernandez) is the cool motivational friend, who wants to have a good time and always knows what to say; Josh (Derek Richardson) is the geeky friend who if he could pull the rod out of his ass could get some sweet Euro-tail; and Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) is their Polish friend whom they met on the trip, who is now tagging along with them- he’s a freaky, and yet fun, nut job. As they head through their various tourist spots they come across a ‘pimp’ who tells them of this place that’s filled with hot women just aching to get boned- it’s a teenagers Toys R Us, only it’s FREE! Only when this trio gets there they find out they’re in for much more than lots and lots of boobies.
Hostel can be separated into two categories: Euro comedy and horror-thriller. The movie begins like a low budget spin-off of Eurotrip and then evolves into a high budget Takashi Miike film. I had a good time and laughed at a few jokes building up through the first 45 minutes, but kept asking myself “what the hell is going on?” and “why do I care?” But once you find yourself cringing (in a good way) through the second half, you understand that a lot of the early segments in the film where set-ups for extremely juicy pay-offs. There’s a joke about the children in the town and how they’ll kick your ass for some bubble gum, which ends up being one of the highlights of the film. My only gripe is that sometimes Eli’s humor doesn’t quite fit into the movie; it’s a little too much for such a dark film and can really pull you out of the moment. I wish he’d mix the comedy with the horror better instead of feeding us just one or the other. Although towards the end of the movie, when we are finally told what’s going on, we get to see how much fun Eli can be. I can’t go into detail without ruining the movie, but this climatic sequence is not only funny, but disturbing at the same time. What truly made it special is that the joke wasn’t forced like they normally feel from Eli, it was extremely organic and only made the finale that much better- this was easily my favorite part of Hostel.
But what everyone is dying to know is it really as disgusting, brutal and violent as we’re being led to believe? First off, I was shocked the MPAA didn’t slap this with an NC-17 rating, second off Hostel is truly special because it’s not the gore that makes it good, it’s the suspense. I’m so sick of directors saying “throw in more blood and focus in on the ripped off head- now that’s going to make this movie good,” because that’s NOT TRUE. A film needs to be taken to Dead Alive levels to even get us to remotely care about gore at this point in our Grand Theft Auto-filled lives. Eli not only gives us some shocking and gruesome moments but he takes the time to step back and make the movie suspenseful and involving. At times I found myself (along with numerous others) screaming at the screen and jolting to the side in disgust. The only film I can compare scenes from this to would be the infamous Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the fact that sometimes showing less can be so much more. To explain Hostel’s violence in one sentence I’d say it’s “suspenseful, but not quite brutal,” but I still found myself biting my knuckle quite a few times.
But the irony of Hostel is in the fact that Eli says he was inspired by Takashi Miike and Japanese shock cinema, and yet some of the scenes shot were eerily similar to James Wan’s Saw. I’m not being negative in any way, I love the way Saw was shot and I thought that the scenes in Hostel’s dungeons were beautifully executed. These sequences showed the many flashes of brilliance from Eli. Even though some of the movie was phenomenal, other parts were quite amateur- and I’m not exactly sure how much of that is Eli’s fault (you decide). There’s a scene at a club/bar early on in the movie that was easily the worst shot of the film. Eli tries to pull of the ‘cool (steadicam) walk through’ shot: as the camera pulls into the bar it cuts through various (terrible) dancers as they just so happen to walk out of the way as the camera comes through. The dance floor is basically empty and the shot looks terrible. After I saw this sequence I said to myself, “oh no, another hour of this?” My guess is that it looked bad because of how empty the club was.
Just like Eli’s directing style, the acting in the film was at times was great. Jay Hernandez was fantastic and really carried the movie on his shoulders. He was convincing and showed his heart was in the right place throughout. The same can be said about Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson who were also tremendous in their supporting roles. But the real gold of Hostel was Jan Vlasak, who played a business man on a trip to the same place. He took the role of the main villain (even though he might not quite be the real bad guy) and creeped me out on a level only Hannibal Lector could do. I think it’s safe to say he truly rounded out this film and made it a perfect little gem for Sony (who should be proud to own this flick).
Overall Eli Roth’s second film Hostel is a vast improvement on Cabin Fever for one major reason: he learned what suspense was and executed it to perfection. Had Eli created a little suspense in Cabin, I only wonder how good that movie might have been. If you’re looking for a film that’ll make your goosebumps rise, make you gnaw on your lip and definitely have you covering your eyes- then Hostel is for you. Hostel is Eli Roth’s statement to all of the people who doubted him- “I’m here to stay.”