Roth’s Hostel is a movie without any conviction. It’s a horror film
that appeals to the middle ground, wades into fear instead of diving in, and
relies on the names of other, better directors to sell the package to an
audience that should be extremely suspicious. Why suspicious? Just look at the
ads, with Quentin Tarantino’s name in giant type. If someone else’s name is
selling your film, you’d better be dead.

It’s not
the basic story that I mind — three sexually desperate guys on a quest
for sex is as good a way as any to set up shock. The trio that drives the
movie hits a Slovakian hostel rumored to be full of babes, and the rumors seem
to be true. They share a room with honeys who seem as bent on drinking and
fucking as the guys are.

Sex and
horror are intrinsically linked, and there’s such vulnerability in drunk,
anonymous sex that Hostel has loads of potential. I haven’t read Devin’s review,
but I know he mentions Audition and it’s easy to see why.
Fears of vulnerability gave Takashi Miike an incredible foundation to build on
in that movie; since Miike cameos here, I thought Eli Roth might be preparing
to deliver something as intuitive and elemental.

But the
movie doesn’t follow through. The hostel proves to be a smoke screen in more
ways than one. It’s a vehicle for the babes and breasts that always put asses
in seats. There’s only a fleeting dip into the horror inherent in the
situations that arise when lust is in charge. For the real horror the movie
switches focus to a warehouse that’s like The Most Dangerous Game set in
Guantanamo Bay. (Though not before trying to distract us with a set of street
kids so incongruous that I still think they must have been in another movie.)

This is
the torture farm that dominates the trailers, and as a horror setting it’s more
visually interesting than a waystation for horndogs, but far more cliché. The
hostel is a setting full of realistic fears; the warehouse is a movie set. The
transition is jarring, though Roth tries to telegraph it right from the start.

It’s also
the place where the movie’s suspicion of everything that isn’t an American male
comes into focus. If you speak anything other than English, this movie doesn’t
trust you. The xenophobia is almost shocking — the only trustworthy people who
don’t speak English are fodder.

the movie’s lack of trust extends to the audience. In a move to cover his ass
and displace allegations of xenophobia, Roth shoehorns a stray American into
the torture garden. He’s a bigger dick than everyone else and handily explains
the plot. Does Roth think we wouldn’t have figured it out, or does he not
realize that uncertainty is better than a block of exposition?

(In an M
Night Shyamalan film, he would have cast himself as the American. Roth doesn’t
go that far, for which I’ll give him credit. Instead, he casts someone that
just looks like him.)

setting also allows Roth to indulge in some gore, and for many people this is
where the film gets nasty. The gore didn’t do much for me either way, though
Jennifer Lim does manage to sell the film’s worst bit with performance. I did
appreciate the way the warehouse scenes were shot; this is definitely a
technical step up for Roth.

The gore
didn’t work for me because once again, the movie skimps when it’s time to
engage the ideas floated in the torture sequences. Even the xenophobia could
have been worked into something great, but it’s as superficial — and therefore
as stupid — as everything else in the film. In the same way that the sexual
shadows are sidestepped in favor of tits and ass, the horror of isolation and
paranoia is pushed out of the way for a dumb chase scene.

As much
as Roth’s flinching hurts, terrible characterization damages Hostel
beyond repair. I don’t ask for likable characters. A film full of
necrophiliac rapists (The Devil’s Rejects) is in my top list
of 2005. But making a movie about a bunch of douchebags requires skillful writing,
and this script might have been tapped out by writhing earthworms dying in the
sun. As the hero Paxton, Jay Hernandez tries to put a band-aid on the movie several
reels in, but it’s too late. I just took his newfound sensitivity as more

ugliness in Hostel isn’t what happens to the people in the film, though
some of that stuff is definitely nasty. It’s what the movie says, and what it
implies about how Eli Roth sees his audience. There isn’t a speaking female
part in the film that isn’t a conniving whore or a helpless leaf. The men don’t
fare any better — the heroes are boorish assholes, everyone else is out to
kill them and the film’s only generous act is proven to be pointless. The only
thing waiting at the end is the same brutal gratification that we’re supposed
to be horrified of.

If I
thought the film was meant to be a nihilistic scream of misanthropy, I could at
least respect it for having a direction. Then, the ending would be valid as a means of turning the audience on itself. But this is purely opportunistic
filmmaking, what people mean when they use ‘exploitation’ as a pejorative. It’s
a collection of grotesque ideas without rhyme or reason, and that makes it
boring, vapid and vain.

out of 10