Starring-Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson
Scott’s Review #951
Reviewed October 24, 2019
During the early 2000’s the traditional horror genre catapulted into a sub-genre commonly referred to as “torture porn” led by the Saw franchise, debuting in 2004. Hostel (2006) takes a note and creates a terrifying production that holds up arguably the best in the bunch. With Quentin Tarantino serving as producer and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever-2002) in the writer and director chair, one knows something memorable is in store. The film is hardly everyone’s cup of tea but a delight for horror fanatics.
American college students Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) travel across Europe seeking adventure and dalliances. They are advised to visit Slovakia, where they are told the women are beautiful, picking up a new Icelandic acquaintance, Oli, along the way. They encounter a strange Dutch businessman, a pack of rebellious street kids, two Asian girls, and two gorgeous European women, Natalya and Svetlana, as they travel.
When Oli disappears, and Paxton and Josh are drugged by the girls, events turn gruesome as the young men find themselves in a horrific remote dungeon facility where tourists are accosted and sold to willing buyers who brutalize and experiment on the victims. Paxton must figure out a way to escape his peril and try to save any of the others before it is too late.
Hostel portrays the loneliness and insecurity of traveling abroad successfully as confusion and disorientation are commonalities that anyone who has traveled to a foreign country can relate to. The country of Slovenia (as an aside the film was shot in the Czech Republic) looks eerie and desolate with a quiet and cold tone. As the group is preyed upon by a mysterious organization that tortures and kills kidnapped tourists, the thought and realism this conjures up adds to the fright.
In unique measure, Roth turns the traditional gender stereotypes upside down. Based on an unbalanced scale females are killed much more often in horror films than males are. A refreshing point is the three principles are males not females and we wonder which ones will “get theirs” and how. Similarities thereby abound with Halloween (1978) when the trio were females and audiences watched their daytime adventures while salivating at the thought of the antics that would transpire when darkness finally falls.
Hostel kicks into high gear during the final thirty minutes once the blood-letting begins to take place. The dark and dingy dungeon is laden with corpses, severed limbs, and blood. A melancholy scene occurs when one character, alive yet pretending to be dead, is affixed in a position where he must stare into the dead eyes of his friend. In another scene, one character must cut off the dangling eye ball of another so that they can escape the dungeon. The scenes have equal power in different ways.
A slight irritant to Hostel is the prevalence of homophobia throughout the film. When the guys get into a scuffle with a long-haired bar patron and use a homophobic slur or a scene in which Paxton states “that’s so gay” as a negative seem unnecessary. Is this to make the main characters less sympathetic or for the viewer to hope that they suffer a horrible fate? Or is Roth just known for homophobia? In 2006 the LGBT community was becoming prominent in film, so the inclusion is off-putting and out of line.
Hostel (2006) remains a superlative horror film that is a shock-fest and is still one of the best of its decade. The gruesome scenes still resonate well and watching the film more than a decade later it feels as fresh as when released with only the homophobic slurs needing to be removed. Influence by Tarantino is always a fine element and his stamp is all over the film. Followed by two sub-par sequels that tread the same blueprint of European travels gone deadly.