Although it’s not as sadistically twisted as, say, “The Passion of the Christ,” “Hostel” is a gore movie of some distinction: It makes most other films of its bloody ilk seem like penguin documentaries.
The story is smartly worked out. Two American college students, Paxton (Jay Hernandez, of “Friday Night Lights”) and Josh (Derek Richardson, of “Dumb and Dumberer”) arrive in Amsterdam on a European backpacking vacation, aiming to run wild in the city’s hash bars and its famous red-light district. These guys are so loud, callow and frat-boy obnoxious, you immediately hope something horrible will happen to them. Hold on to that hope.
Paxton and Josh make friends with a fellow jackass, an Icelandic backpacker named Oli, but before long all three weary of Amsterdam — it’s unexpectedly expensive and crammed with tourists, some nearly as irritating as they are. A weird kid they meet tips them to a much cooler place in deepest Slovakia, a village filled with beautiful women who are unbelievably (not to say inexplicably) hot to trot. There’s a really happening hostel there, too, the kid says, one that “you won’t find in any guide.” Morons that they are, Paxton, Josh and Oli hop a train and are soon making the scene.
Sure enough, upon checking into the hostel, they find themselves sharing a large room with two girls, Natalya (the glorious Barbara Nedeljáková) and Svetlana (Jana Kaderabková), who are, as advertised, incredibly beautiful, and not completely committed to the wearing of clothes. By the grace of a benevolent God, they’re demonstratively bisexual, too. A lot of sex understandably ensues. Then Oli mysteriously disappears. The girls take Paxton and Josh to a disco, where the clueless maroons knock back shots and pass out. Josh wakes up in a dungeon with dripping stone walls, a table full of surgical implements and a guy in a mask brandishing a power drill. The terrible things that then happen I’ll leave to your imagination, although the movie certainly doesn’t.
Paxton awakes from the disco interlude wondering where Josh is. He tracks down the two girls — who he now realizes are a little strange — and accepts Natalya’s suggestion that he visit an unusual “art show” in a big, ominous heap of a building out in the countryside. You’ll never guess what this place turns out to be. Well, yes you will, although Josh is no longer anywhere to be seen. Really terrible things are being done to people in a warren of wet-walled rooms down in the basement, and soon they’re being done to Paxton, too. Why? And how much money must it require to persuade people to perpetrate such monstrous acts on fellow human beings? One resident torturer explains: “No one’s paying me. I’m paying them.”
The trailer for “Hostel” makes it seem like an extremely repulsive snuff movie, but there’s more to it than that. The director, Eli Roth, who made a splash on the horror scene with his first film, the phenomenally popular “Cabin Fever” (2002), says he got the idea for this picture from an actual Asian Internet site that offered, for a huge fee, to pair aspiring murderers with willing victims. Roth took this idea and ran with it — straight to his pal, Quentin Tarantino, who responded with manic encouragement. (Tarantino became an executive producer on the film, which now has “Quentin Tarantino Presents” tacked above its title.)
“Hostel” was shot in the environs of Prague by Czech cinematographer Milan Chadima, and along with its Kafkaesque element of malignant collusion among the villagers, the movie has a distinctive Bohemian atmosphere that is by turns rustically picturesque and deliciously grim and dismal. There’s gore by the barrowful, of course; but key parts of the appalling assaults happen slightly off-camera — it’s the slow-darkening aura of terrified apprehension and utter hopelessness that really gets to you.
Does it need to be said that this is not a movie for everybody? Those unentertained by the sight of a gouged eyeball dangling from the end of a wet tendon on a screaming victim’s cheek can happily pass it up. But “Hostel” is more artfully horrific than the usual gore flick, and more truly scary. It’s a small classic of its awful kind.
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