9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but nonetheless, an inventive and original idea.,
This review is from: Hostel (Unseen Edition)  [DVD]  (DVD)The central concept of Hostel (2005) is a familiar one, with the stranger in a strange-land motif having been used in a number of great, similarly-minded horror films of the last thirty-years, most notably in John Landis's classic black comedy, An American Werewolf in London (1981), and again, more recently, in films such as Wolf Creek (2005) and Them (2006), The concept is one that lends itself to ideas of paranoia, unease, uncertainty and helplessness, as we realise that there is no one to turn to and no one to trust.
The film isn't entirely successful, with the usual drawbacks of director Eli Roth's particular style resulting in the usual attempts at crude frat-boy type humour, wanton aggression, vicious violence, and knowing nods towards sexism, misogyny and perhaps even xenophobia; all getting in the way of the more important factors like tension, terror and real, believable characters. Like his mentor Quentin Tarantino, you get the sense that Roth has clearly seen a lot of films and can borrow, reference and pastiche with the best of them, but unlike Tarantino, you also get the sense that he doesn't really love films, but rather, is in awe of the violence that they present to him. His first film, Cabin Fever (2003) attempted to revive the splatter film genre with a combination of Romero's zombie horror and Raimi's kids in a cabin theatrics, with knowing references to films such as Sleepaway Camp, Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, Deliverance, Sothern Comfort, Evil Dead and The Last House on the Left. Sadly, for all the clever references, buckets of gore and sporadic bursts of T&A, the film was completely devoid of all sense of character or empathy; giving us a film that failed to create any kind of emotional resonance with the audience or anything that made an impression after the final credits had rolled.
However, Roth has certainly rectified some of these problems with Hostel; which overcomes the complete lack of anything approaching real character and his shallow attempts to pay lip service to more talented filmmakers, such as Tarantino and Takashi Miike (who's work Roth seems to completely misinterpret on almost every level), by at least having an interesting concept, an air of dramatic mystery and some truly imaginative death sequences. The most successful scenes are obviously those closer to the end of the film, in which we have an attempt to escape; resulting in a pretty fraught chase sequence, and finally we actually start to feel something for the characters. Some would say that it's too little too late, but I feel it ends the film on a high note and proves that Roth just might be able to reign in his more adolescent tendencies to one day produce a truly great film.
Another thing I liked about it was the scenes that hinted at a central mystery or conspiracy, in particular when two of the central characters search the small Eastern European village for their missing friend; which for me, conjured images of Dario Argento's early works such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971) and Deep Red (1975), as well as that kind of uncertain, mysterious, slightly menacing atmosphere from Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973). It also goes back to the idea presented in the aforementioned An American Werewolf in London, and its less successful Parisian set sequel (1997), with the travelling companions straying off the beaten track and being punished for it; again, bringing to mind films like Deliverance and Sothern Comfort as well.
I suppose you could argue that some of Roth's more immature touches make it impossible to feel anything for these characters, mostly as a result of them being somewhat under-written and underdeveloped. It's never quite as bad as Hostel Part II (2007), which is really about nothing, other than upping the ante on gratuitous gore; with the deaths and the suffering of that particular film used only as a means of titillating the blood lust of teenage boys. Not that I have anything against violence in cinema you understand, but certainly the old adage that a little goes a long way is undoubtedly true. For me, the most memorable scenes of violence are the ones that hold the most dramatic weight; the ones that feel real and very much believable, where we can feel for the characters in that situation and apply our own various psychological fears and anxieties alongside it; something that Hostel manages to pull off with those frantic final moments.
Admittedly, there is plenty here that audiences might find disgusting, or maybe even offensive, but there is also a decent story that manages to pull you in, despite the overall lack of style and the childishness of some of Roth's lurid scenarios. Unlike its shallow, unimaginative sequel, Hostel offers more than mindless entertainment for a post-pub Friday night in, with some genuinely inventive moments of violence and that great 20 minutes towards the end, which points the way forward to the kind of high tension Roth should be going for. Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but regardless, an inventive and original idea that holds our attention for the duration of the film.