Hostel is a film I don’t think many casual moviegoers have thought about in years. After all, the film rode the waves of mainstream overlap and success had by a long begotten era like James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s Saw film franchise. It does remain an interesting relic of yesteryear no doubt. The film was released in 2005 to mixed reviews from critics, some lauding for its cutthroat brutality and others insulting it for those very same reasons. When the dust settled, Hostel grossed over 80 million at the worldwide box office and received a couple followups, suggesting a successful turnout in the end.
Eli Roth was a mostly fresh name on the scene when this film came around. A few years prior, he had eyes on him for the successful horror comedy film Cabin Fever, and the seal of approval from Quentin Tarantino made him a director to look out for. His bloody fares like The House with the Clock in Its Walls still find an audience all these years later (that was a joke).
Hostel is a film that stuck with me for some reason. Maybe it is because I watched it when it was first released on DVD with my family (when I was eleven-years-old). It is, perhaps, a microcosm of Western culture that I can remember hiding my head under blankets in my youth from a woman’s breast on the television screen more than I can a person having their eyeball melted with a blow torch.
Hostel’s cast includes Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, and Barbara Nedeljáková. Most of those names likely won’t stand out to you, but Jay has been around. For instance, he played El Diablo in the Suicide Squad film.
If you recall (or if you don’t), Hostel’s premise received a level of controversy when the film was first released. Basically, the film is about these tourists who are traveling all across Europe.
They are not exactly likable, but they don’t exactly come across as characters you are meant to root for the demise of. You will hear them spout off homophobic slurs and misogynistic dialogue and it does not feel like you are meant to react to it beyond a surface level. They are meant to be wild and feel like they are having a blast, and although they are rough around the edges, they are not awful, more like dickheads with a lot of growing up to do. I will admit too that it gave me pause when I revisited the film how casual it felt and how I had never mentioned that from the earlier assessments I had written about the film. Maybe that shows how homophobic the landscape was in the mid-2000’s, maybe I did not notice it because I was a child.
The tourists soon find themselves in Slovakia after having it recommended to them repeatedly. This is where the major conflict of the film arises when they find themselves honeypotted, groomed, and butchered by the individuals in the country. This is where the controversy of the film arises, through the portrayal of Slovakia as a country and how it was represented in the film. Mind you, the film does not necessarily suggest Slovakian’s are solely the bad guys. Instead, it portrays the country as a haven for a type of behavior to persist. That is, a haven for individuals to pay money to do whatever they want to a person.
Then again, it does portray Slovakia as a impoverished and uncultured country with high-criminality and suffering, which is a valid reason for criticism. Eli Roth has defended this sentiment suggesting it more a commentary on the United States’ ignorance about foreign countries and compared it to how the Texas Chainsaw Massacre portrayed Texas. It is a difficult topic, I think.
On one-hand, whereas the Texas Chainsaw Massacre portrays a smaller part of Texas and acknowledges the abnormality of itself, this film portrays a larger-scope of Slovakia. The children are shown as criminals who will mangle you for a Reese’s cup and corruption can be seen in every crack and crevice. Also, with depicting a lesser known country like Slovakia, you are punching-down more than you are with a state like Texas. I don’t necessarily think it is inherently offensive because the film could be interpreted as an isolated part of Slovakia and not a representation of the country as a whole, but I think the comparison to Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a false equivalency.
The film’s concept is certainly one of intrigue in itself, however. Similar to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (carrying that comparison again), it plays off the unknown. Living in towns of forestry and long stretches of unused land, I know it has occurred to me how easily something bad could happen and not be found out about until way later on. The idea that a country that may not necessarily have the resources we do or could be corruptible and thus allow such cruelties to happen is a scary thought.
The characters are one-dimensional, across the board. Often it can feel like they are spinning their wheels in-order to reach the eventual payoffs, and while that stuff can be entertaining, complimented by playfulness and more full-frontal nudity than you can shake a stick at (a weird analogy), it is superficial and forgetful. This is a film that is definitely build around its high-concept and I do think that affords it a level of goodwill. I would have loved to see some more memorable antagonists, however.
As well as this, I feel the cinematography never truly does a lot to capture the actions that occur during the film. Say what you will about the Saw film series and its hyper quick-edits, the dilapidated color-scheme distinguished it and I feel the series offers an identity even when the narrative is unkempt. The camerawork in this film stands there and documents, but I can’t help feeling it does a disservice to what is happening on the screen.
Although I like the concept, the story of Hostel and how it unfolds is very contrived. Everything is too neat-and-tidy and sometimes the coincidences are detrimental. An example of this is how often a character happens to be in the right place at the right time to connect a piece of dialogue or a scene to where it happened earlier in the film. A lack of subtlety or discipline is something I feel really applies to a lot of Eli Roth’s work (like Green Inferno or Knock Knock). He has trouble picking a lane and staying the course. Perhaps it is his own ambition and enthusiasm getting the better of him?
This is a film that, for lack of a more apt description, is about individuals hunted and butchered, and yet, it has elements of a thriller or a vigilante action film. The tonal inconsistencies really hurt the film as well, the inclusion of the children, for instance, really took me out of it. It feels like it was meant as black-comedy, but it also feels like it has no place in the film.
Hostel introduces a novel concept, one that was obviously successful enough to pursue again. However, I believe it fails to make the most of said concept, offering a middling albeit bloody distraction more than all else.