Today we celebrate the tenth anniversary of Eli Roth’s Hostel, a film that both reviled and delighted audiences upon its release. Marketed heavily as being as “Quentin Tarantino presents…,” the film drew in audiences who might not normally go to the theaters for a film like this but who fully knew what kind of horror movie they were getting into (the trailer itself uses the word “torture,” which is kinda on the nose).
After 10 years, it’s worth looking back at this film as it came about in a rather interesting time, a time when extreme filmmaking wasn’t sure if it had a place.
The film follows two college students, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), who are backpacking throughout Europe with their Icelandic friend Óli, when they decide to stay in a hostel in Slovakia after being told that there are tons of beautiful women there. Lo and behold, this is an awful idea as they are one-by-one kidnapped and taken to an abandoned factory where they find out they’ve been sold to businessmen who are intent on torturing and killing them in whatever way they see fit.
Costing less than $5 million to make but drawing in almost $81 million worldwide, the movie was a huge success for Lionsgate and paved the way for two sequels, the first of which is considered by many to be superior to the original while the third leaves a lot to be desired.
Now, above I mentioned that Hostel came out at an interesting time and I want to explain that. You see, just a few years prior, the 9/11 attacks occurred and there was this running doubt as to what Hollywood should do with their films. The American people witnessed a horror and tragedy the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Pearl Harbor and this was broadcast nonstop for weeks. With so much horror shown on the television, could Hollywood afford to offer anything like that? As it turns out, yes they could.
Rather than shy away from being traumatic and visceral, horror embraced it and went off the deep end. People witnessed tragedy so horror was going to go even further to act, in a strange way, as a kind of outlet, a place where people could take their shock and funnel it into something they knew was fake, thereby releasing it from their shoulders.
And Hostel was no different. In a strange way, Paxton represents the United States pre, during, and post 9/11. He was relatively innocent and excited about the future while traveling through Europe. Then he was attacked and maimed in the factory. And in the end he managed to emerge victorious, defeating the man responsible for his suffering. Yet he still couldn’t go back to how he was before. Too much had changed for him.
While this transition is all too familiar for horror fans – it’s been done since…forever? – here the villain isn’t some nameless creature and it’s not some demonic entity. It’s another country and its people that made us feel unsettled. It was people who come from a different way of life, a different culture, and it triggered a bit of our own xenophobia.
Now, it should be noted that both the Czech Republic and Slovakian governments denounced the film as they felt that it showed their countries in, well…less than attractive circumstances. And having personally been to the Czech Republic recently, I can confirm that it’s a stunning country with unbelievable history and some of the nicest, happiest people I’ve ever run into.
If we were to ignore the last few paragraphs, then from a purely superficial point of view, this movie may seem very shallow. After all, it’s just a bunch of people getting chopped, quite literally, into pieces. But, in my opinion, what this movie offered was a rather fascinating and darkly hilarious take on consumerism and the view of Americans in the global environment.
The below clip is a fantastic example of not only the derision that many have for Americans but also a representation of the machismo and bravado of us Yanks, stirred in with a healthy dose of self loathing. Rick Hoffman’s businessman character, who is delightfully astounded that Paxton “bought and killed” an American, casually waves a gun around and gleefully hems and haws over how to kill his own victim, opting to take it slow and cause agony. I have a feeling that many non-Americans saw this as rather fitting instead of horrifying. Perhaps they saw it as both?
An interesting fact is that many people think the term “torture porn” originated with critic David Edelstein’s review of this movie, even though its release came a few years after Saw, which marked the resurgence of films that either heavily implied or flat out showed a lot of gore.
Alright, enough of me waxing poetic on Hostel. What are your thoughts? Is it a casual midday film or is there something more behind Roth and his offering? Tell us in the comments what your thoughts are on Hostel!