Jay Hernandez as Paxton
Derek Richardson as Josh
Eythor Gudjonsson as Oli
Barbara Nedeljakova as Natalya
Jana Kaderabkova as Svetlana
Jan Vlasák as The Dutch Businessman
Jennifer Lim as Kana
Lubomir Silhavecky as Alex
Paula Wild as Monique
Lubomir Bukovy as Alex
Petr Janis as The German Surgeon
Jana Havlickova as Vala
Vanessa Jungova as Saskia
Directed by Eli Roth
Whether or not you were ever curious what “Spring Break Bratislava” might be like, Eli Roth’s gruesomely twisted “Hostel” is a horrifying excursion into a nightmarish world few of us would ever want to experience firsthand.
Two American college friends (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) are backpacking across Europe trying to hook up with sexy European women, when they learn about a hostel in Bratislava where beautiful women are at their beck and call to fulfill their dreams. They soon learn the hard way that it’s all a front for something much more menacing and deadly.
There are a few different ways you can approach Eli Roth’s follow-up to his 2003 Sundance favorite “Cabin Fever,” but originality isn’t one of them. After all, this horror film uses the same simple plot of vacationers arriving in a place where the locals want to harm them can be traced back to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “2000 Maniacs” or later B-movies like “Tourist Trap” or even last year’s remake of “House of Wax.” It’s what Roth does with this premise that makes it work on multiple levels, rather than just being another gratuitous orgy of sex and violence. But don’t worry; it’s that, too.
It all starts out like a remake of “Eurotrip,” as we’re introduced to college buddies Paxton and Josh, and their horny Icelandic tagalong Oli, as they spend a bit of time tasting the treats that Amsterdam has to offer. It takes a bit to start to like these horny American guys, but they do win you over, especially Josh, the smarter friend, who actually acts like he’s smart enough to go to college. When they go to the city’s Red Light district, he even gives us a bit of foreshadowing, saying that he could never imagine “paying someone to let me do whatever I want.” When they’re locked out of their hostel, a local tells them of a place in Eastern Europe where they can get all the women they could possibly want. Sure enough, once they arrive, they meet beautiful women eager to take off their clothes and jump into bed with Americans. Even the horniest of males who might go see this movie because they never get a chance to see women’s breasts will tire of seeing them after about twenty minutes.
If you’ve seen the commercials, trailer or any of the clips, you’ll know that it’s not all fun and games, because the hostel, and apparently the entire town, is just a front for a very exclusive club where rich Europeans can pay a lot of money to do whatever they want to unwilling victims culled from anyone foolish enough to stay at the hostel. It’s a regular training ground for psychopaths and future serial killers, who can reason away their guilt by the amount of money they have to shell out for the chance to torture and murder.
Although it takes a while to get to the actual horror portion of the program, when it does, it’s worth it. Parts may be predictable, but the way things play out, you can’t help but be horrified, even if you know what’s coming. At times, it feels like you’re witnessing a snuff film, making the torture scenes almost as painful for the viewer as they are for the victim. You’d have to be a true sadist to fully appreciate it, but fans of blood and gore certainly won’t be disappointed. Roth has obviously studied the masters from Gordon Lewis to Takashi Miike to find just the right level of splatter and spray to make even the most stalwart gore fan squeamish. There are only a few moments that don’t look quite real or as effective as others, but the film’s production values are still better than low-budget wannabes like “Saw” or “High Tension,” because the story and characters have been better developed so that there’s real tension with every horrifying scene.
(Diehard horror fans will appreciate a special “treat”, which I won’t reveal.)
Still, Roth never loses sight of the film’s ever-present sense of humor, just switching from the sophomoric sex humor to sight gags involving body parts. It also veers to the downright odd in the form of a gang of young street thugs who look like the Euro version of the child gang from “City of God.” Like the weird kid who kept screaming “Pancakes!” in “Cabin Fever,” there’s more to this strange decision that will become clearer later in the movie.
If you prefer your movies to have a message, than “Hostel” won’t disappoint there either. The very premise of the film could be seen as a diatribe on how out-of-hand consumerism has gotten when rich people can and will pay any amount of money to be able to torture and kill pretty young tourists, and will pay even more for Americans. This last bit probably wouldn’t have been nearly as effective before 9/11, but there’s something that rings true with how Europeans feel about America right now, that it’s quite believable that they’d pay to teach us a lesson. The film depicts how we’ve become so desensitized to violence that it’s considered a rush worth paying for. (Irony!) Maybe I’m reading too much of a message into the movie, but the fact that this type of subtle underlying political message can be found amidst all the sex and violence already puts “Hostel” above films that simply want to show as much blood and gore as possible.
The Bottom Line:
Eli Roth has taken a typical splatter horror plot and given it social and political relevance, without ever losing sight of what makes this type of movie so entertaining for bloodthirsty gore enthusiasts. His attempts to bring intelligence to a genre desperately needing it makes him worthy of a place among the masters of horror.