Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hostel (Unrated Director's Cut)

31 Days of Horror
I was not looking forward to Hostel.  Judas Pato claimed that it was pretty hilarious --- and I almost always agree with Judas --- but my horror movie guru, Danny O'D, pointed out that this was a movie about torture, which I share John McCain's attitude toward: it's a no-no.  Ugh.  But I'm pretty open to watching whatever someone suggests, so I chose to finally watch Eli Roth's Hostel.  I liked Roth's Cabin Fever, but this...?  This feels like something that is just outside my comfort zone.  Will that be a good thing or not?
Hostel begins with a few stupid Americans, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), and their randomly picked-up Icelandic buddy, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), partying in Europe.  They like to party, Josh has no game with the ladies, and Oli wants to stick his penis in anything that moves.
Yes, even them, with their Eli Roth-nipples
The guys, being stupid Americans (and Icelanders), come back to their hostel after curfew.  Thankfully, a cool guy, who totally smokes pot and has a weird mole on his lip, lets them into his apartment.  There, he tells them that sure, Eurpose is okay for sluts, but Eastern Europe -- Slovakia, in particular --- will have them up to their necks in pussy in no time.  Failing to take the time to realize that "up to their necks" could be face-first or feet-first (let alone the desirability of such a state), the boys head to Slovakia.
"We do not fear vaginal asphyxiation"
On the train, they meet an unnamed businessman (Jan Vlasák) who is creepy as you can get, while still eating salad.  Nothing happens on the train, though.  Once they arrive in the Slovakian hostel, they are told that they are going to have to share a room with other people, which is totally lame.  Until those "other people" are total slut babes, that is.
If this was CSI, we would hear Roger Daltrey screaming "YEAAAAHHH!!!"
After a night of booze and sex with their roommates, Paxton and Josh awake to find Oli missing.  Well, maybe he walked his one night stand home, and he'll be back in time for breakfast.  Or lunch.  Or dinner?  That's weird.  Oli's a horn-dog, but he also loves to send text messages with photos of him boning random chicks, so it's especially odd for him to be absent AND silent via text.  You might think that a missing friend would ruin the party for Pax and Josh, but that's not the case; Paxton rationalizes that they will be leaving tomorrow (for Spain) anyway, so they can either be bored or have sex with beautiful sluts.  Emotional angst takes a backseat as the boys try to consummate that thesis.  There's just one problem...the boys seem to be getting drugged.  Pax accidentally gets trapped in an alley and passes out, but when he wakes up, Josh is also missing.  There's something sinister at work here, and Paxton is determined to get to the bottom of it.  That's a choice he's definitely going to regret.  Why? a hyphenated word, torture-porn.
If this looks too "edgy" for you, then it is

The acting in Hostel is surprisingly decent.  There are no good actors in this film, but Jay Hernandez was as good as I've seen him here.  Granted, he's usually pretty mediocre/awful, but even his limited acting ability didn't get in the way of his character's believable reactions and motivations.  Derek Richardson was fine as the bitchy, conservative member of the troupe, but that also made him fairly unlikable.  Eythor Gudjonsson, though, was the saving grace of the main cast.  Oli was awesome.  In a film filled with profanity and lewd remarks, Oli stood out, thanks to the joy and unique nature of his work.  Jan Vlasák was suitably creepy in a small, but important, role.  It could have been a more substantial part, but I blame that moer on the script than on Vlasák. 
"I'm the one paying them!" could have been epic with a better script
Barbara Nedeljakova and Jana Kaderabkova were absolutely perfect as the bait for this trap; both girls were sultry and sexy when they needed to be, but sinister and strung-out when they were outside their assigned playtime.  There are only two other (substantially supporting) roles worth mentioning in Hostel.  The first is the absolutely random appearance of Japanese director, Takashi Miike, who plays a member of the Elite Hunting group; this cameo is obviously a show respect for Miike's awesome Japanese horror movies, but I wish he had something more substantial to contribute in his few lines.  On the bright side, the special features interview with Miike was occasionally interesting, in a philosophical way.  The final noteworthy member of this cast is Rick Hoffman, who excelled at being a hateful stereotype of American business aggression; I think I liked Hoffman's performance, but he does such a good job of being unsympathetic that I'm not sure whether to appreciate or hate him.
"Hey, dick, I'm a little preoccupied here"

Hostel is only the second film directed by Eli Roth, but it shows a surprising amount of confidence on the part of the director/writer.  One thing at a time, though.   Roth's direction shows a talent for building suspense; the torture scenes bordered on masterful, with regard to suspense.  The overall pacing of the film is a little uneven, and it would have been better if that sense of suspense or dread was carried through more of the movie, but this is a torture/horror movie --- let's be honest, we're lucky to get anything this competent.  Roth's best moments lie in particular scenes; he does a fantastic job making uncomfortable moments feel absolutely excruciating.  That doesn't translate into the movie as a whole, which has an almost comedic tone at times, but those moments are what sticks out most in the memory.
In other words, you recall the torture more than the boobs
Roth's writing is, at times, a strong point in Hostel, but not so later.  If you like profane penis references, then Hostel has the script for you.  Personally, I don't care about dick jokes one way or the other, but I prefer it when they are legitimately funny, instead of just foul-mouthed.  Hostel doesn't have a lot of clever lines in it, but it is jam-packed with semi-comedic rudeness, disguised as the-kids-really-talk-like-this.  While that may be true, I would have hoped for funnier dialogue.  The script feels a little forced, like it's trying too hard to be edgy.  As for the plot as a whole, I think Roth missed the mark with the final act of the film.  I don't buy Paxton as a savior, even with his drowning story, and I definitely don't buy him as a ruthless kidnapper/probable killer.

[To be fair, that was my reaction to the Unrated Director's Cut, which has a different ending than the Theatrical and Unrated editions.  After seeing the other ending, I stand by my statement.]

Hostel is a movie about torture, so how violent is it?  Not as bad as you would think.  The first half of the movie is almost devoid of violence and gore, so it really isn't until Josh gets kidnapped that the viewer sees anything gross.  Even then, the violence is not nearly as unbearable as I had imagined it to be.  Of course, "not as unbearable" does not mean that this is a gore-free film.  The worst moments are probably when Josh has his Achilles' tendons slashed and when the Japanese girl gets her face torched.
I don't want to look for it, but I'm sure there is a Japanese fetish porn site that loves this picture
Well, okay, the dangling eye was obviously a makeup job, but the puss that oozed out of her wound was disgusting.  There just wasn't as much torture as I was expecting, I guess.  While a lot of people die in the film, most of them get their just desserts in action-ish sequences, where they are not helpless victims.  There is far more implied violence than there is actual onscreen violence; that doesn't mean this is a film that is violence-free, it just has a lot of dead bodies in the background of the main action.
Thankfully, the hunchback body-part-retriever doesn't deliver puns.  In English, anyway.

Eli Roth is famous for supporting both extreme violence and nudity in his movies, and Hostel is no exception.  If you are a fan of female nudity, there are over a dozen breasts pairs to ogle.  Are they gratuitous?  Mostly, yes.  However, they are gleefully gratuitous, which somehow makes it seem less sleazy, although I'm not sure I can explain why. 

What's the verdict on Hostel, then?  I fully expected that I would cringe my way through this movie, but I found it surprisingly watchable.  There are some elements in this film that I loved --- the fact that there were no subtitles added to the sense of isolation, the girls did a good job, and there was enough humor to offset the uncomfortable moments --- but there were just as many that I disliked --- the inconsistent tone, the "edgy" dialogue, the action movie final act.  If I could change only one thing in this movie, I would have had more suspense, even if that meant longer torture scenes.  The fact that the most memorable scenes are so short, and yet have such a central importance to the plot makes this an uneven story, at best.  Given the actors Roth was working with, I think this movie turned out surprisingly good for what it is.  "What it is," though, is a couple of graphic scenes wrapped in another hour-plus of stupid character syndrome.


  1. I love the "edgy" dialogue. I think that this movie is supposed to be equal parts humor and horror (much like Cabin Fever). The characters are caricatures of horror movie stereotypes. I think Roth did a great job balancing the humor and horror, all the while coming up with a somewhat original and engaging plot. I guess it just works better for me. Plus, being completely desensitize to gore helps.

    1. Oddly, I thought the torture scenes were the best scenes. It wasn't the gore, but the flinching suspense that I liked.

      As for the dialogue, Eli Roth is capable of much better work. Also, choosing the complete dick character with only the drowning story to add depth? Weak. Give me a main character I wouldn't want to taint-punch, please.

      This movie's weakest element is the final act, where Jay Hernandez turns into Bruce Fucking Willis. Once he was out of the chair, I thought the movie was pretty boring. Until that point, I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it.