dir: Eli Roth
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Hostel is about so much more than just the horror. It’s more like bumping into an unpleasant ex at a party who gives you a blow-by-blow explanation of just why every single little aspect of your relationship sucked. Without any blow-by-blow, but with plenty of bringing the pain.

Oodles of pain. There is viciousness here, but it’s really not as bad as you’ve heard. It veers off into cartoonish violence and gore which undercuts its overall effect, but it’s still pretty compelling in setting up its fucked-up premise. Director Eli Roth has done substantially better here than he did with his awful debut Cabin Fever, but he’s got far more money and obviously far more leeway as well to tell this diabolical tale.

The essential thing to remember is that this grindhouse, grindcore flick is not for any other audience other than an American one. Sure, they sent copies of the flick out here for our drooling masses to drool over, but it’s very much a product of a certain place and time, calculated to derive a certain feeling. And that feeling is the dread of what other people want to do to you because you’re American.

The Americani, bless each and every one of them, have been going through tough times for the last bunch of years. Since September the 11th 2001 Americans, in general, have started getting the impression that other people throughout the world, wallowing in the misery of their own pathetic nations, have little love lost and in fact open loathing for all them. Some might feel it’s because of the US government’s actions overseas, or solely because of envy.

It’s not true of course; the billions of people who don’t live in the US don’t really think about anything pro or con our capitalist masters on a daily basis because they’re more concerned with the reality of their daily lives. Of course there are also probably at least a few million people who actively do hate their guts, the nasty brutes.

This isn’t a film about that hate alone. This is a film about the ‘Ugly American’ travelling through Europe as if it’s a ride at Disneyland, caring not for local custom and culture, using it like it’s a condom, to be enjoyed and discarded as quickly and as effortlessly as possible.

And then someone, in the spirit of the free market, decides to capitalise on the hatred this behaviour inspires.

Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Josh (Derek Richardson) and some Icelandic bum they bump into, travel to Amsterdam in search of drugs and sex. Dutch drugs and sex, which are apparently better than what they can get in their home countries.

They act like complete arseholes of course, boorishly blundering about like steroid enraged bulls in a sex shop. Their senses dulled by excess, by the abundance of easily paid for sex and drugs, they desire, aspire to something more.

By chance they bump into a Russian rodent called Alexei who convinces them, simply by showing them a few photos on his mobile, that if they go to a town near Bratislava, in Slovakia, they will find women of incredibly beauty and sluttiness, drugs of infinite highs with no comedowns, and all for free.

Lacking the sense that any other sentient being should possess, knowing when something is too good to be true, they decide to traipse on over there and partake of the delights on offer. They encounter a strange businessman on the train (Jan Vlasak), who wishes he could have become a surgeon, and likes eating his food with his hands, because he feels that humanity has lost touch with its food, the tactile sensation inspiring respect for the creature that died for their consumer’s needs. Yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds.

Being made for an American audience, it’s not the ‘women’ that they’re going for; as they constantly phrase it, it’s for ‘pussy’. And it’s there in abundance, and infinitely pliable, willing and stretchingly able for free. Free I tells ya!

I mean, what self-respecting, attractive Eastern European woman doesn’t want to fuck all American males at any time? It would be the height of abnormality if they didn’t. I mean, I start hearing one of them Texan accents and I start getting a tingle ‘twixt my nethers, I tell you what.

These women don’t even want money. They condescend slightly to the men, but seem happy to show them around, give them free drinks, and have sex with them with their friends watching. Ah, Slovakia, you’re a shining beacon of proper etiquette and deportment, an example to the rest of the world.

Although it’s about 50 minutes before the horror sequences start, the film keeps foreshadowing what’s going to happen. Not what’s about to happen, as in the scene, but down the long and terrifying track.

People start disappearing, but initially it seems strange, rather than ominous, despite the music. We suspect something gruesome has happened, but the protagonists and the other extras with minimal dialogue all couldn’t possible suspect something so completely horrific is going on, massive conspiracies, people who’ve completely lost their humanity and so start seeing other people as commodities.

Which is what good horror should be about. Believable lapses in humanity, but almost unimaginable.

The fact is, and there’s no real way to talk about the film without revealing it, tourism isn’t really the industry bringing home the bacon for this town. What they are capitalising on is the jadedness that comes with excess; that comes with the boredom of being easily and readily gratified at the touch of a button, at the swiping of a credit card, and the escalation that it must lead to.

The Americans, their friend Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), and the other tourists in the hostel become the menu, but they are little different to the customers who are there to consume them. Early on in the film, our heroes wander the halls of a Dutch brothel, perusing the fetishes and quirks available. It is mirrored later on in the horrifying place they end up in, where they are the performers, and the performed upon.

There is no where near enough characterisation to actively care about the characters, because that would have made it a drama instead of an exploitation fest, but I have to admit I didn’t hate the two main protagonists. But I certainly cared about their plight. Goddamn, even Americans don’t deserve this kind of fate.

When I said earlier that this flick’s story is aimed back at Americans and plays on their fears regarding the resentment building up in the rest of the world towards them, the best indication I have of that is the manner in which the ‘cost’ to enjoy them is mentioned. You see, on the menu of delights that are available, the big ticket item is Americans. They cost the most to ‘enjoy’ by those who decide to take the plunge. It costs $50,000 US to ‘enjoy’ Americans in this context, because, using sturdy economic principles, the entrepreneurs at Elite Hunting charge what the market will bear. Supply and demand meet in such a splendid manner; it’s hard to not get a tear in your eye. That is, until someone pays to blowtorch it out of your skull.

Director Eli Roth has mentioned in interviews that this flick, as were a lot of horror flicks in the 70s and 80s, is an essentially moral story. It’s about the moral choices people make, and the situations they end up in because of them. I say it’s bullshit, because there’s plenty of trashiness done here just for the sake of being trashy. But he’s got a point.

There’s also, considering Quentin Tarantino’s exec producer credit, little surprise that in some ways the flick is a continuation, an extension or an elaboration upon ‘The Gold Watch’ section of Pulp Fiction regarding Butch and Marcellus Wallace ending up in the basement of some strange hillbilly rapists. You remember, with The Gimp. There are plenty of sly and overt references, though this is far harsher. The closest connection regards the choice that a person makes, when it wasn’t necessarily in their best interests. It’s the one unselfish act in a film supposedly about the selfishness of the West.

The ‘worst’ bit of violence is also the least affecting, because it just looked ridiculous. And though violent acts make up little of the screen time, it’s pretty fucking nasty.

One sequence, with one of our main characters, was worked out so superbly, and carried out so well that I felt like applauding at its end, as well as throw up all over my boots.

The ‘art gallery’ where these installations take place, run by some of the ugliest people to arise from the ashes of the Soviet empire, looks just horrific. It is very well designed and shot, making it look like the worst charnel house in human history. It’s previewed in the film’s opening credits, but it looks, when the chambers are finally revealed, like the hell Christians believe awaits the rest of us non-believers.

It’s one of the better horror films of the last few years, without an original thought in its head, but with an interesting enough premise, reasonable execution, and a nasty take on the contemporary world as Americans see it. I shudder to recommend it to anyone.

7 times I already know if a sexy woman wants to have sex with me, it’s because someone wants to kill me out of 10

“Be careful. You could spend all your money... in there.” THE Takashi Miike, Hostel.