Director: Eli Roth (looks like Sylar from Heroes!)
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Jennifer Lim
Grownup fairytale of horror and survival
From all the reports, you’d think that Eli Roth’s Hostel was the nastiest movie ever made. It’s nothing but endless gore, harrowing, disgusting and degrading piece of cinema.
Now I’ve finally seen it, thanks to Sky, and you know what? It’s not that bad.
I’m probably getting immune to horror in movies, but, let’s face it, there’s usually a lot worse on the news. Horror’s power tends to be in the anticipation of what will happen to you – not the act itself, and this is very much the point in this film. There isn’t much actual torture. In fact, it’s a brilliant gothic fairytale replete with ogres, bad fairies and wolves-in-sexy-women’s-lingerie.
It’s even a morality play, which makes it surprisingly safe for a horror film. I was expecting a far less upbeat ending – but instead you feel quite glad about the survival of the lone protagonist. The introduction is like a grownup version of EuroTrip, which starts off making you wish they’d hurry up and kill the obnoxious Yanks. Once away from the tits and the booze, the three men develop what passes for their personality. There’s the Icelandic guy with a daughter and a divorce behind him. One of the boys wants to be a writer, but he’s very shy about this trip. The other one is a typical jock who tells a small anecdote about a woman screaming for her drowned child, which has haunted him all his life. It’s still a toss-up as to who may make it – if anyone does. They also meet two young Japanese women, staying in the same hostel.
Just as the main characters come into focus, we’re suddenly treated to the close-up of a severed head. This is tastefully used in a text message to reassure the other two that he’s gone home. The two Americans are soon in serious trouble. They’ve entered a fairytale and stand little chance of survival. Soon one of them is at the mercy of these torturers for hire, in the first extended seen of brutality. It’s nasty, yes, but then it’s not meant to be pleasant.
The extent of the gore shown will make you wince, but I found it stayed at a bearable level. It’s not real! It’s obviously not real! The tension as the implements are pointed at these vulnerable humans is the nastiest part – the waiting for the agony to land. The actors (tortured and torturer) do a very convincing job of making it realistic, right down to the vomit! It’s gruesome, but not as intense as, say, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Perhaps the DVD shows things even more graphically. Thing is, graphic violence isn’t scary! Wolf Creek terrified me, Halloween still gives me the jitters, and the Descent can make me jump. As far as Hostel goes, there’s only a bemused sense of ‘is that it?’ This film follows a great tradition of horror for the masses.
For example, there used to be a theatre in France that excelled in this type of apparently gratuitous Grand Guignol. They closed in 1962, after the horrors of World War II turned people’s stomachs off this kind of horror. Their experience of real horror, apparently, made the audiences less happy to watch the previously impossible recreated in front of them. But, then in 1969, Romero made Night of the Living Dead. I think that we still need our scary-tales to help us deal with the nastiness of today, and this is a great example of it.
Real life deadens us to horror, not horror movies. And the more realistic, the better. Hostel doesn’t expose too much – it keeps it painful but also it remains the story of Jack escaping from the man-eating giant. This is a splendid piece of survival horror, but for real scares, you should stick with Texas Chainsaw. Either version is okay, but the first one is far better.