The reason I love horror so much is that no other genre can be just as entertaining with its classics as it can be with its duds.
A bad horror movie is not the same kind of failure as a bad action, comedy, or thriller, in some cases it’s not a failure at all. Some, like for example Jason X, can be immensely entertaining by putting a ridiculous spin (slasher villain goes to space) on an already tired formula. Others, like Aquaslash promise nothing more than the title, and deliver. So, where does that leave Eli Roth’s Hostel?
Released in 2005, Hostel was the horror movie you couldn’t get away from. Like Saw the previous year, Hostel was marketed as a new kind of extreme movie breaking through (with the help of Quentin Tarantino) to the mainstream. I was in high school in 2005, and even in Scotland this movie made waves – getting hold of it was like the previous generation’s teens tracking down the banned movies on the video nasties list, Hostel felt forbidden. Except, in 2005, it was less of a case of exchanging videos than finding one of your friend’s dads who didn’t give much of a fuck what you watched and rented it from Blockbuster (RIP).
I was completely terrified of horror movies back then, so I begged off the one time where it looked like my friends were going to watch it, probably by pretending to be too cool for it. Which brings me to now, fifteen years later, and look, to be honest – I’m still too cool for it. And I greenlit this article.
Lets get one thing straight first of all: I am not against torture porn as a sub-genre. There are plenty of things it has in common with the gory movies I actually like – slashers, and their Italian cousins, Giallo. It’s not the gore that I hated in Hostel – I actually think the effects are brilliant, and I would expect nothing less from SFX master Greg Nictotero. It’s everything else I hate. Literally everything.
Eli Roth is a strange character all on his own. His debut, Cabin Fever, was bogged down by bad acting, writing, and the sense that Roth wanted to jam in as many references to his favorite movies as possible. Hostel makes Cabin Fever look like a downright relief in comparison.
I think Hostel would be forgivable if it was deliberately one of those schlock movies that turned up on the video nasty list (Roth’s obsession with he movies of this list are responsible for his pointless Cannibal Holocaust rip-off, The Green Inferno, after all), but it feels like Roth was close to saying something about the American culture of the time, and its ignorance to the rest of the world, with Hostel. Close, but instead he rolled another joint, downed another shot, and told the nearest actress to get her tits out.
Hostel may be one of the shallowest movies I have ever seen. The characters: Paxton (a walking advertisement for the pleasure principal, with none of the nuance to explore what that means), Josh (the ostensibly nice one who I’ll get to in a minute), and Óli (who reminded me of every guy I met in Freshers Week all rolled into one), are unlikable, abusive and naive as all hell. Josh seems to be the lead of the movie, until he’s bait-and-switched as the second kill after the unfortunate Óli. He is seen as sensitive, because he doesn’t openly sexualize every woman who wanders into his eyeline, especially in comparison to Paxton who, if the events of the movie didn’t happen, definitely had charges of sexual harassment in the workplace in his future.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for unlikable characters leading a story – the last decade of television lived and breathed those stories. But Hostel would be a slightly better movie if I actually cared about what happened to these three. Josh is perhaps the most interesting, because he is involved in one of the most bizarre parts of the movie. This involves The Dutch Businessman’ in his first appearance he gropes Josh without consent, which causes both Paxton and Óli to laugh their asses off and mock Josh for being victimized. Later in the movie, after the Buisnessman “saves” Josh from a gang of children (don’t even make me get into it), Josh then apologizes to him for being molested while stroking his leg. Thanks a bunch, Eli, it’s people like you that keep gay panic alive, while also undermining male sexual assault.
It’s through Josh that we come to Roth’s second mistake, although this is a more structural mistake than the abhorrent personal politics on display. Simply put, the reveal is too early. As Paxton and Josh wonder where Óli has got to after a night of partying, the movie smash-cuts to Óli’s severed head on a shelf. In my opinion, this was not needed so early, and robs the rest of the movie of what tension it could have had. Óli’s head, and it’s placement both on the shelf and in the story, feel like Roth glanced at the actual words of a screenplay book while drawing boobs and ejaculating dicks in the margin and thought he needed a jolt for the audience. Well, that jolt punctured the movie right in the jugular, and we spend the rest of the runtime watching it bleed out.
With Oli and now Josh dead, we are left with Paxton, the one guy I wanted to die this entire time. Which brings me to another absolutely bizarre scene. Remember the gang of kids from earlier? Well, their leader steals Paxton’s phone (a very period-appropriate Motorola Razr), and Paxton decides to strangle one of the others. And I mean, he tackles him to the ground, wraps his hands around his throat, and throttles him for a good thirty seconds before thinking better of it and wandering off. I get that he’s lost and alone at this point in the film, but you just showed our last apparently sympathetic character try to murder an innocent child. Eli, what was this for? What were you trying to convey here?
Finally, we have to talk about the misogyny. It’s baked into every scene of Hostel – where every woman is naked, evil, and hyper-sexual, pure deviousness conveyed by a lack of make-up. Even the one non-evil female character, Keiko Seiko as Yuki, kills herself after seeing her burned face sans an eye, which allows Paxton to escape. The women are props in this movie, set dressing supposedly to differentiate liberal Europe to the more puritanical United States… wait, hold the damn phone, I’m giving Hostel far too much credit.
Women are decoration here, tits filling the backgrounds of shots for no good reason, sexposition taking to a whole new level, every man nothing more than a lolloping, immature horndog whose mind is blown by a set of tits and reverse cowgirl and through whose eyes we see the entire cum-soaked world of Hostel – if this is really what Hostel believes men think about women, it despises both genders with equal fervour. I’m no prude, but this level of bonerism is just downright boring and insulting to everyone involved.
I wouldn’t usually call a movie, any movie, a waste of time, but Hostel is just that. It is the kind of movie that shows what mediocre artists are allowed to do if the right director likes your shit. Would Roth get better with age? Well, he remade Death Wish so the answer is a firm “fuck, no”. Skip Hostel, and book somewhere else for your next horror holiday instead.
By Kevin Boyle
Header Image: Slant