Hostel: Director’s Cut (2006) dir. Eli Roth
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson
NOTE: This is a review of the “Hostel: Directors Cut”, but since I haven’t seen the theatrical cut so I can’t compare the two.
Over the past few years I purposely stayed away from the hyped ‘torture porn’ genre of horror films. Eli Roth, from his public persona, struck me as someone whose films I did not want to see. But having just seen “Hostel” (as well his Grindhouse trailer, “Thanksgiving”) I can now say, I’m an Eli Roth fan. “Hostel”, which tells the story of a group of Americans who get seduced, kidnapped and tortured by some particularly gruesome Eurotrashers, throws enough twists and turns at us that the film becomes more than just your ordinary horror film, but something completely entertaining and satisfying beyond the genre expectations.
Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) and the Icelandic Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) are your typical backpackers traveling through Europe looking to get laid and get stoned. They’re in Amsterdam making the most of the town. Paxton is the adventurous one, Josh is the shy one, and Oli, is your typical wild Icelander (you’d know if you met one). In search of even greater action, the boys take the advice a creepy Russian, who tells them to go a hostel in Bratislava where the girls go mad for Americans. Hook, line and sinker.
The boys travel by train to Bratislava and rent a room at the hostel where they are greeted by a pair of half undressed Eastern European beauties. They boys party with and eventual bed the young ladies. But one night when Josh gets separated, he passes out and wakes up in a torture chamber where his living nightmare begins. I’ll end the synopsis here, because the less you know the better. And beware spoilers are ahead.
The story unfolds very carefully. Roth doesn’t rush the gore, which is the reason why most people will be seeing the film. In fact, there’s only a 20 mins sequence in the middle of the film when the disgusting stuff actually happens. Much of it is implied. Roth plays by the rules and doesn’t give us too much too early. The film is cleverly structured to maximize the dramatic impact of its reveals. The opening act contains no horror, only laying a foundation of suspense. The portrayal of the Americans’ behaviour and the European attitude to them is very real. Much of the fear comes from this post 9/11 worldwide backlash against America. Because of recent Bushian politics, many Americans feel threatened in different parts of the world. All of the scenes and events in the first act (ie. Josh’s fight in the bar) amplify this fear. As well, what seems like exploitation and gratuitous amounts of sex and nudity with the prostitutes in the film is also laying thematic groundwork for payoff later in the film.
There’s several key moments and story beats in the film that kept me on the edge of my seat. The first key switch is when Roth cuts away from Josh in the torture chamber to Paxton who has been left alone at the disco club in the morning. By cutting back to Paxton, we are left hanging as what happened to Josh, and he delays the big reveal as to what the torture chamber actually is. NOTE: I applauded the recent TIFF film, “The Passage” for a similar narrative shift, not knowing Roth did it first. The second key reveal is when Paxton discovers he’s been set up by his new girlfriends. And the third moment occurs when he meets a fellow American in the torture room. It’s a very clever twist that I didn’t seen coming. Instead of being another slice of torture-porn exploitation, it makes an intelligent statement about exploitation.
Roth is very smart about how he shows his gore. It’s incredibly violent but also with a touch of humour – the eyeball scene is my favourite. And just when the film is about to get predictable, there’s the third act, which is a revenge action film. Roth breaks a horror film rule by having the victim actually fight back and succeed. I can’t recall a horror film where the hero is able to find such satisfying and sustained revenge against all his enemies.
That’s the key word in this review – satisfaction – the ending of the film in the washroom is such a great moment of cinematic revenge I was fist-pumping the screen. Eli Roth, you’ve sold me. I loved your “Thanksgiving” trailer on Grindhouse, I loved “Hostel”, and I look forward to “Hostel II” and looking back at “Cabin Fever”. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Hostel (Director's Cut)