Eli Roth's "Hostel" is a slick, crafty and entirely unrelenting thriller about a couple of American buddies whose indulgence in European debauchery takes a nasty turn, and it delivers the gory goods with gusto. So there's that.
But here's the other thing. "Hostel" is also just the latest in a long series of horror movies that abandon storytelling and character development for mindless sadism, played out as graphically as possible. Like the "Saw" films, and Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects," and those splattery remakes of "House of Haunted Hill" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Thirteen Ghosts," "Hostel" is really just an excuse to watch people thrash around while they're being tortured. It's visceral, and it's shocking, and it's nothing new.
The concept is nastier than most, revolving around a secret operation in a remote corner of Bratislava where anyone with the cash can indulge in the most horrible acts imaginable. Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), lured by the promise of nubile bunkmates, are just the latest fodder for the meat grinder.
Roth stages the first half of the film with some throwaway charm and a nice ear for the conversational tones of spoiled college students who see the world as a theme park, but all of that goes out the window once the scalpels come out.
Like "Wolf Creek," the film is really about innocent young Westerners being preyed upon by inscrutable foreign monsters -- Brits tortured by an Aussie bushman there, and American idiots being flayed in Eastern Europe here. "Hostel" is essentially another cautionary tale about the dangers of tourism, filtered through a very strange lens; it's as if "Eurotrip" had been handed off to Takashi Miike halfway through the Club Vandersexx sequence. (The Japanese maverick even has a cameo.)
But why? What's the point? Other than making a few quick bucks from the gorehound crowd, Roth never makes a compelling case for "Hostel's" existence. It's just another meat grinder.
Sony's enhanced-widescreen DVD -- built around a "Sicker and More Twisted Unrated" cut of the film -- is apparently not the definitive edition of the movie; director Roth alludes to a more elaborate DVD in the works for release in some unspecified future, to include the alternate endings he discusses in one of his four audio commentaries.
Yes, four. Roth is a chatty fellow ... but not an empty-headed one, as anyone who heard any one of the "Cabin Fever" DVD's five tracks can attest. He rarely repeats himself, and always finds something to say in the context of the conversation around him. Put him together with another enthusiastic, informed filmmaker -- like, say, executive producer Quentin Tarantino -- and you've got fanboy nirvana. (Roth and Tarantino are joined on the disc's best commentary by executive producers Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin.)
That said, his rat-a-tat delivery can be kind of exhausting after a while, especially when he's accompanied by people who'll let him talk over them -- say, on the track that teams him with producer Chris Briggs and documentarian (and brother) Gabe Roth, or on the track that teams him with Harry Knowles, co-stars Barbara Nedeljakova and Eythor Gudjonsson, and editor George Folsey, Jr. Or you can listen to him find his own rhythm on a solo track.
The disc also includes Gabe Roth's chipper behind-the-scenes documentary, "Hostel Dissected," viewable as three separate featurettes or as a single hour-long piece, and the enjoyable but slightly creepy "Kill the Car!," which lets the viewer shuttle through three different camera angles of the movie's climactic vehicular demolition. What's left for the next DVD release, I cannot imagine.
STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: April 18, 2006
TIME: 94 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French audio dub; English and French subtitles; audio commentaries; documentary; production featurette.
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