Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MOVIES: Hostel

I was wary about renting Hostel, because I've been burned by director Eli Roth before. I had been looking forward to his first film, Cabin Fever, after reading an interview with him in which he praised classic horror movies, ripped on contemporary, watered-down, PG13 horror films, and promised loads of unapologetic sex and gore. Then I actually watched the film, and it was so maddeningly, blindingly, astoundingly stupid I think it gave me brain cancer.

I'd heard some good things about Hostel, but once bitten, twice shy, right? I finally rented it last night, not expecting much, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was much better than Cabin Fever (it would pretty much have to be). This time, Roth made an actual movie, with a plot and believable characters and everything. In fact, it's a damn good horror flick. Bravo.

The story involves three backpackers (two typical ugly Americans and a hilarious Icelandic dude) blundering into a horrific trap. While partying in Amsterdam, they meet a young German who fills their heads with stories of a Slovakian hostel where anything goes -- drugs, beautiful women, wild orgies, anything they want. The three friends decide to check it out, and at first, it is indeed everything that was promised. Then one by one they're taken to "the Factory," where the term "anything goes" takes on a different, bloodier meaning.

The first film may have delivered on Roth's promise of sex and gore, but Hostel makes it look tame by comparison. The first half of the film is packed with a copious amount of sex and nudity, in Amsterdam and in Slovakia. Baiting the trap, basically. It's the old horror standby, sex = death. There's a price to be paid for all their carousing and debauchery -- but at least there's a lot of carousing and debauchery first. And then, once we enter the Factory, the blood and violence is truly cringe-inducing. The victims are horribly and sadistically tortured for no apparent reason, with everything from a power drill to a blowtorch to a chainsaw. There's a bit where one of the American kids begs to be freed, and his torturer does... something... which makes it very difficult for him to leave, then says, "You're free to go" -- that's still making me wince.

A quick word on the acting: passable. Okay, a few more words: the ugly Americans do their job of being ugly Americans, although they carry it to an obnoxious extreme that almost makes you happy when their playtime comes to an end. The women, well, they're hot, and not much more is required out of them (although Barbara Nedeljakova as Natalya really sells the fact that she gets a kick out of leading these poor bastards into hell; when one American calls her a bitch, she replies, "I get a lot of money for you, and that makes you my bitch"). Eythor Gudjonsson is tremendously entertaining in his film debut as Icelandic backpacker Oli, and Jan Vlasak is tremendously menacing as the primary torturer, who likes to whistle while he works. And keep your eye peeled for a cameo from executive producer Quentin Tarantino in heavy makeup, including a scar, in a bar scene just before the second American enters the Factory.

The film is very creative in its brutality. Roth has been strongly influenced by the works of Japanese horror director Takashi Miike (or Miike Takashi, if you like -- he makes a cameo in Hostel, and is credited both ways), and if you've seen his film Audition, you might have an idea of what you're in for with Hostel. True to his word, Roth did not make a PG13 light horror romp with a bunch of WB starlets who scream prettily. This is intense stuff, for serious horror fans only. I am exactly that kind of horror fan, and I enjoyed this movie, not simply because it's gory, but because it's well-crafted gore; as for the rest of you, well, you probably already know if this is for you or not.

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