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I have to applaud writer/director Eli Roth for what he has created in Hostel. To me this film is not as much a horror flick as a thriller told with all the gruesome brutality intact. There are no scares, no haunting music crescendoing, and no jump in your seat moments that we expect from the genre. Yes, we get blood and gore and uncut severing of body parts, the film is definitely not for the squeamish, however, Roth tells it in such a way that we as an audience are involved and invested in these characters. We saw the torture in the previews and think this is what the movie will be in totality, when instead we are shown a couple of kids backpacking through Europe before grad school. These kids roam free until their better judgment lead them to their destruction.

Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson are perfectly cast. Hernandez’s Paxton is ready for a good time, or as many as he can with as many different women possible; Richardson’s Josh, on the other hand, has just broken up with his girlfriend and is reluctant to join in the fun. His nervousness is portrayed realistically and you can believe these two guys are old friends and have each other’s backs. They even meet a horny Icelander Oli played with comic genius by Eythor Gudjonsson. He is a kindred spirit, although probably a decade older than the boys, and the three are having a blast in Europe when the suggestion of perfect, sex-crazed girls in Slovakia is dropped into their consciousness. They continue their trek east and all goes to plan, meeting two vixens, including the gorgeous, Monica Bellucci lookalike, Barbara Nedeljakova, who show them a good time. A good time, that is, until Oli goes missing and hell begins.

Eli Roth has woven a suspenseful yarn that totally came out of left field. He shows us a more serious take on a premise like the comedy EuroTrip for the first forty or so minutes of a ninety-minute film. We know what is going to happen, and yet he teases us by giving the exact opposite to the gore we have come to see. This tactic allows us to settle in and get to know our protagonists, learn their backgrounds and motives. The attention to detail here makes what happens in the second and final act that much more visceral. These are innocents roped into an underground game of deception and profit. They don’t deserve what is about to happen and we root for them that much more. Each small bit of exposition into their lives also pays dividends later on to help us cope with some of the things they do. Remember the memory shared by Jay Hernandez about a drowning girl from his past. This story helps setup why he does what he does towards the end. Old horror rules don’t apply here, people don’t act stupid and run towards the killers; they have distinct reasons for what they do and the entire film is carefully orchestrated as such.

Other reasons to see the film include actor Jan Vlasák as the Dutch businessman our leads encounter on their journey east. He has the intellectual creepiness his character needs to be a success. The mannerisms and involuntary shake of the hands add substance and layers to a role that isn’t explained as much as the others. Each action of his speaks louder than any words could. Also, the cinematography is worth watching on its own. We are treated viscerally by grimy, disease-infested scenery shrouded in darkness. Roth uses abstract angles throughout the film keeping the audience off-kilter and prone, so that the assault has the utmost impact. More than visuals, though, is the aural quality of many scenes. On multiple occasions we are stopped on static framing while the sounds of what’s about to happen fill your ears. If you feel any fear during this movie it’s in the anticipation perfectly laid forth by the sound preceding every act seen, as with thunder being followed by lightning.

Hostel has everything you could want in a horror/thriller. The suspense is heavy and never overplayed to cause boredom from the waiting. I think this fact might actually hurt the planned sequel being written now by Roth. Hopefully the fact that he is continuing the story at the exact point the first ended will help in getting the audience involved right away; not having the same long period of setup before the payoff, making it essentially the same movie with different characters. Either way, count me in for part two. Any movie that includes great songs like the Sneakerpimps’ How Do and pop culture cameos like horror-maestro Takashi Miike is good in my book.

Hostel 8/10

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photography:
[1] Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) and Josh (Derek Richardson) in HOSTEL. Photo credit: Rico Torres
[2] An American businessman (Rick Hoffman) in Eli Roth’s HOSTEL. Photo credit: Rico Torres

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