9/1/09

Will Terrifying Tuesday Get Hostile when I Check Out Hostel(2005) ?

I’ve only been abroad once in my life, and it was on a trip to Europe right after I graduated high school. As soon as I descended onto foreign soil, I sought to ingratiate and learn about the cultures I was being exposed to. There were a handful of others on the trip with me, and surely, we were thought of as the nerdy bunch by the rest of the group. The others proceeded to march around the ancient ruins, impressive museums, and religious grounds with all the arrogance and boorish behavior that has become expected of the American tourist.

The term the Ugly American comes from a book of the same name written in 1958 by authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. In the book, one character describes the Americans that had come to Southeast Asia to stem the flow of communism by saying “For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they're frightened and defensive, or maybe they're not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance.” Ironically, the character called the Ugly American, a brutish engineer, is the only one who lives among the people and truly tries to help them.

I know this is a long way to go around to getting to talking about film, but Eli Roth’s much maligned film Hostel, tries to illustrate the new face of what the world knows as The Ugly American. While the film achieves this with mixed results, I’m starting to believe it should be required viewing before you can get a passport. Just so on the off chance that some tourists might just think, “That could be me so maybe I ought to know a bit about where I’m going and maybe I should leave the Bermuda shorts and fanny packs at home.”

Roth’s Hostel presents us with a trio of young men, Americans Paxton and Josh (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) and the Icelandic Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), who are traveling across Europe and staying in various hostels. As the film opens they are in Amsterdam, they meet a Russian man who tells them about a hostel in Slovakia filled with gorgeous and slutty women. Naturally, the next day the trio sets out on a train headed for the village, and along the way, they meet a very creepy Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák) who spins tales of the hostel’s wonders before putting his hand on Josh’s knee. Once they arrive at the hostel, it seems like all it's cracked up to be including co-ed rooms with a couple of exotic hotties. When Oli and an Asian girl go missing, things start to go downhill, and soon Paxton finds himself alone in the foreign country. He begins to investigate their disappearance, but ends up almost suffering the same fate as his friends.

Before I go any further, let me say that while the Americans in the film are portrayed as horny rubes, there are not any really nice European characters either. Hostel may make Yanks look like dummies, but it portrayed Europeans as either treacherous, sadistic, or at the least, terribly rude. In some ways, it plays with the stereotypes that both groups have with each other. Of course, with all such narrow categorizing, there is a bit of truth mixed in on both sides. Hostel is a film that ignores the exceptions and focuses on those preconceived notions that we all have of each other.

Of course, the problem is that all the things I’ve extrapolated from the film are shakily drawn out, and I think this is where the weakness of the film comes in. Roth carries his themes well right up until the point where Paxton is drawn into the murderous underworld. After that, the film becomes an adventure film that is more about survival and escape than looking into sociological issues. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, I rather enjoyed the back third of the film nearly as much. After putting off this film for many years, I was quite surprised at how the violence was portrayed.

Hostel has been credited as one of the groundbreaking films in the “torture porn” genre, a label I have yet to understand or agree with on any film. While obviously (spoiler alert) the people who have travelers kidnapped to torture and kill them fetishize violence, I never felt that the film or filmmaker were making the violent spectacle in any way titillating. Roth even pulls away from the torture and murder making the unseen impact the audience. There were even a couple scenes where the violence was played for laughs. The guy who slips and cuts himself apart with the chainsaw and what happens when Paxton catches up with the people who set him up both seem more like fates that Wiley Coyote might suffer. Compared even to last weekends The Final Destination, Hostel is not the gorefest everyone has made it out to be.

Hostel does have quite a few problems that make this film not stack up against his debut feature Cabin Fever. The main problem I have with the film is the loss of the thematic thread in the final act, but I do have a few other qualms. I have a hard time with a movie that has no characters in it that I can either like or relate to. The characters struck me about the same as the jerks in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. I hesitate to say that the film makes you feel like they deserve what they got, but it does make you want to smack them and make them a bit more conscience about the world they live in.

My last gripe has to do with the gore effects. While a few of them were rather realistically gruesome, there was at least one scene (at the very end of the film) that was one of the worst effects I’ve ever seen in a major production. While I tip my hat to Roth for using practical effects, that particular one took me out of the film right at the end of the story, and it left me quite confused as to why it was so poorly done. I even entertained that he might have done it intentionally, but I think that is just Monday morning quarterbacking on my part.

I would really be interested to see what other folks thought about this film because it’s not the travesty that I had been lead to believe, but it’s certainly not the game changer that a few have called it. I am also very keen to see how the story progresses and the many cameo appearances in Hostel 2. I’ve seen two out of three of Roth’s films now, and I still don’t think he’s made his best one yet. I think it’s a shame how underrated he currently seems to be, and I hope that his charismatic performance in Inglorious Basterds does a bit to change that. That’s all for now folks. Join me back here tomorrow for another film from the Hitchcock library that is sure to be a thrill.


Bugg Rating


6 comments:

  1. Hi Bug - I actually enjoyed this movie. Hell I even liked the sequel! And I am no Roth fanboy or anything like that. For example, not a fan at all of Cabin Fever...not at all.

    Hostel was brutal, gory and a helluva lot of fun - just what I was hoping. My wife and I saw both installments at the cinema and feel we got our money's worth.

    If you made it through this one, don't be afraid to try the sequel. Some people I know who thought part one was "iffy" actually liked the sequel a lot more.

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  2. I liked Hostel. It didn't knock my socks off, but I thought it was a good horror movie. I've only seen it once...probably won't see it again and have yet to see the sequel. I do think Roth is capable of much better things to come...but I'm not holding my breath.

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  3. I was mostly bored by this one.
    Thematically, as you said, it's interesting, but I had the feeling while watching it that Roth mistakes loudly stating the themes of your film with actually engaging with them.
    I also agree with you about the characters. I'm usually not someone who needs protagonists to identify with, but protagonists who are such slasher movie clichés that you can't bring yourself to care even a little are just a bad choice in a film that is supposed to have larger ambitions.

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  4. Im with Geof on this one, I found Hostel to be completely enjoyable from start to finish, but it may be one of those films that needed to be seen in theaters. The crowd reaction to the hit and run scene was one of the best reactions I have ever been witness to. I love the characters, love the gore, and love the plot.

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  5. Im with Geof on this one, I found Hostel to be completely enjoyable from start to finish, but it may be one of those films that needed to be seen in theaters. The crowd reaction to the hit and run scene was one of the best reactions I have ever been witness to. I love the characters, love the gore, and love the plot.

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  6. Great review. I have mixed feelings about this film. I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. Part of it was that I couldn't stand any of the characters in the movie. I couldn't care less if they got killed or not. I actually like the sequel better.

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