a critiQal film review Hostel (2005)

Plot: Paxton (Hernandez) and Josh (Richardson) are two Americans backpacking through Europe with Oli (Gudjonsson), an Icelander they've met along the way. Looking for women, they take someone's advice and check out a hostel in Slovakia. Unfortunately for them, in this hostel, they aren't guests - they're victims.

670 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 21s)
  • ...a startling ineptitude in involving viewers at all, a surprising lack of gore until late in the film, and a ridiculous homage to the Friday the 13th style of films all add up to make this one of the worst horror films in recent memory.

With a tagline like “Quentin Tarantino presents”, Tarantino fans like myself are already excited to see Hostel. Toss in the press buzz about the film, saying it’s one of the scariest films to come along in a while, and I knew I was going to have to check this film out for myself.

Also, since I knew Director Eli Roth’s work from the rather interesting Cabin Fever (2003), I knew he might be able to create a horror film worth watching. But, was this Tarantino/Roth production going to be all I was hoping for, or is Hostel just another in a long line of Lions Gate horror films that can’t hold a candle to Saw (2004)?

The first thing viewers may recognize in Hostel is Jay Hernandez – but they may not be able to figure out what they’ve seen him in. That odd familiarity about him actually helps here, as viewers may be able to relate to someone vaguely familiar rather than someone they don’t know at all (Surprisingly, Jay has been in a number of films, including Torque (2004), Ladder 49 (2004) and Friday Night Lights (2004). Not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing that he still only seems vaguely familiar). At any rate, Jay manages to do a decent job of keeping the viewer interested in what happens to him, but still seems a somewhat unlikely person to follow through the film.

Derek Richardson, on the other hand, seems likely to be the hero of the picture – even though his only previous claim to fame was replacing Jeff Daniels as Harry in the crappy prequel Dumb & Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. With his goofy innocence, he seems the perfect one to have to change to escape the suddenly bizarre circumstances he finds himself in.

In most horror films, the unlikeliest person is the one chosen to be the main character of the film – usually one of the weaker people who end up showing the heroism previously undetected.

Aside from the two Americans in the film, most of the other characters in Hostel don’t do much of anything to contribute to the film. They seem to be just set pieces to be encountered along the way. They could have easily been replaced with cardboard cut-outs, and it wouldn’t have changed the viewer’s opinions of them much at all.

But what about plot? Too often, horror films focusing on the gore factor tend to forget about why their characters are getting mutilated, instead focusing on new ways to hack up the cast. Saw (2004) raised the bar, showing a horror film could be actually more intense if there is a reason behind the mutilations, rather than just gore for gore’s sake.

Sadly, Hostel totally ignores the lessons of Saw (2004), instead distracting viewers from the lack of plot by showcasing as much nudity in the beginning of the film as possible, replacing the eye candy with violence much later on in the film.

It seems as if Hostel got more of an influence from the cheesy Friday the 13th (1980) slasher flicks than from Cabin Fever (2003). Maybe the filmmakers figured it worked well enough for Jason to last 8+ films – why wouldn’t it work for another?

Sadly, this attitude is what’s wrong with so many horror films these days. Sure, it’s tougher to be inventive. But, if you are able to create an inventive horror film, you’ve got the beginnings of a horror series on your hands. Just look at Saw (2004). A truly original first film garnered so much attention that one sequel has already hit DVD – and despite it’s inability to reach even close to the heights of the first film, there are rumors of a second sequel in the works. But, the success of Saw (2004) seems to be the exception that proves the rule for horror filmmakers.

After all, look at the success of gore-filled fests like House of 1000 Corpses (2003), the long line of Hellraiser (1987) films that are now going straight-to-video, George A. Romero’s <Land of the Dead (2005), House of the Dead (2003), FeardotCom (2002), House of Wax (2005) and any Freddy/Jason/Michael Myers sequel since 1994's New Nightmare (to name a few).

These films don’t frighten – they entertain. They let viewers get out their blood lust by watching people (mostly teens) get chopped into little gory bits. But, is that scary anymore? Nope – it’s been done to death (pardon the pun), and it’s time for horror films to move on – involve the brain of the audience, not just their stomach.

Okay, now that the viewer recognizes Hostel is all about gore, they should be counting on good quality scenes of torture, correct? So the viewer waits through half the film, just hoping to catch a glimpse of torture that will put The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to shame. Then the door to the room opens, and the viewer catches a glimpse of the wide variety of tools laid out – and the tension grows.

Suddenly, the action begins…and one or two cuts later, it’s over. What? After waiting 45 minutes, this is all the viewer gets? One or two badly shot, cheesy special effects scenes, and then the viewers is whisked off to another scene? At this point, viewers are stuck, hoping that the film has a lot more gore waiting. But it doesn’t. A couple of quick scenes that don’t look very believable at all (a resounding boo to you special effects guys), and the film continues on it’s rather ridiculous journey.

Despite what you may have heard, Hostel is by no means one of the best horror films of recent times. With it’s startling ineptitude in involving viewers in the plot of the film at all, excessive scenes of nudity whose only purpose is to distract viewers from the fact that no gore appears until late in the film, and the seeming homage to the Friday the 13th (1980) style of films, I’m glad I didn’t shell out the cash to see this movie in theaters.

If you’re a big fan of the Friday the 13th (1980) movies (so obviously don’t care about such things as good special effects or any real plot), you may be interested in checking out Hostel. Otherwise, your visit to this particular hostel won’t be any more pleasant than the victims on-screen. But then again, with much less gore than any Jason film I’ve ever seen, even you may be disappointed by this one.

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