Film Review: 2005’s Hostel

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This is one of the first review reviews I’ve ever written. That’s not to say that this is in its original form, but the basic content of this review is one from 2006, and was written in between my reviews of Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. From my memories of the film, I still stand by what is said – otherwise I would not be republishing this – but I definitely wouldn’t mind rewatching this movie and adding some new thoughts to it. I’ve come across some interesting pieces on the relationship between this film and both how Americans act and are seen, and I can definitely see this; as I’ve mentioned, this is a genre largely tied to “First World Problems”. The girls selling the boys’ bodies is something worth taking a look at as well, which of course goes completely the opposite direction in the sequel, but I’m trying not to judge a sequel that I have yet to watch.

I suppose every generation has a Hostel. That film that is supposedly so scary, or so gory, or so offensive to the senses of some old lady or hapless parent and their child that stumbled into a horror movie unprepared that they were hospitalized. For my generation it was Hostel, the film that took 2004’s Saw and stripped it down to the bare essentials: bad things happening to people with as much blood as possible.

From Hostel, a new subgenre was born and given the name “torture porn”, a title that simultaneously misses the point completely by assuming that the audience sympathizes more with the antagonist than the victim while being the most apt name for the group of films whose main attraction is people suffering in creative ways. The subgenre is also creative for being almost entirely about what Twitter would call #firstworldproblems (backpacking across Europe in Hostel, being punished for lack of moral ambition in Saw), which is decidedly not what most torture in the world is.

The film begins as the three friends, Paxton, Josh and their Icelandic friend Oli, head to a hostel in Slovakia. The friends’ dreams come true as they have sex with their hot, female roommates that night. As it all seems to be true, the friends are separated one by one and disappear from each other’s lives. Paxton is left alone to escape the clutches of the hostel and do what he can to avenge his friends.

For a film that doesn’t bother giving some characters the time of day, the main characters have a surprisingly solid foundation. As somebody who usually struggles to tell the main cast apart until half of them are dead, I was pleased to found that I didn’t have to rely on “he’s the one who survives” to tell who was who. That said, when you get down to the less important characters, many of them are only given one scene to establish this information.

In fact, the writing did not get a lot of attention in this film. Like The Transporter (the first film that I ever hated in theatres), the main villain has no name. Characters who wronged Paxton show up literally just in time to accidentally die, and for no other reason except perhaps to demonstrate facts that were already evident. The actors themselves do a better job with their characters. Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson in particular give their characters a distinctive feel. Jay Hernandez, who plays a more generic American, also portrays his role quite competently, as do the supporting roles.

The effects, of course, are where this film made its name. That, and the blatant manner in which they are carried out. And the effects are good. Notice I said good, not outstanding. I’ve seen gore that I enjoyed more, and there’s not all that much of it here. Every bit that is there looks good, including the vomit and the ocular fluid when Paxton cuts off a dangling eyeball. Still, the effects on their own aren’t the focus here. It’s the fact that the victims actually react to what is going on that makes it special.

Altogether, this film is enjoyable to watch, if you’re in the right mood for it. I could question or defend some of the writing choices, but I won’t bother. The writing clearly was not intended to be much of this film, and most of the enjoyment that I got out of it was the results of casting actors who put effort in than the script. While Eli Roth should not be allowed to put his hands on a script again (and from what I hear, the sequels are no better in that regard), but I’ve got to say, as a director…he’s not too bad.

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