August 24, 2006


I'm clearly warped. I didn't expect to enjoy Eli Roth's Hostel; part of my refusal to see it when it first came out was the fact that international debates on torture were going on at the time, and to derive entertainment from what is essentially snuff-porn seemed politically reprehensible, and still does. But I did like Roth's previous film, Cabin Fever, and so, still coming down from my Descent / horror-movie fix, I thought I'd check it out.

You probably already know what it's about: Three louts, boozing and whoring throughout Europe, fall prey to an urban legend come true, all set in an Eastern Europe veering close to parody (bad disco, rows of drab cars, a bombed-out urban landscape, cops with comb-overs and leather-jacketed heavies straight from central casting). The film itself is an homage to the stylized sadism of '70s and '80s giallo, and the nastiness of recent Japanese gore cinema (notably the work of Takashi Miike, who graces Hostel with a cameo, but also Toshiharu Ikeda's Evil Dead Trap).

It's horror, all right, but there's a way in which you can read the film as a comedy. (Like Miike's Audition, the film starts out as a different movie altogether -- in this case, Eurotrip, which I never saw, but can only imagine what it's like -- and then detours shockingly into genuine, unblinking violence.) A triphoppy version of "Willow's Song" playing while the protagonists are having sex? Funny! The running gag about the street kids who kick ass and chew bubblegum? Even funnier! The two best scenes -- the ones where I'm embarrassed to say I laughed out loud -- are delivered with perfect comic timing, complete with a pause and an even funnier follow-up. You can think of the infamous eyeball scene as formally similar to, say, the moment before Rob Schneider is forced to do something nasty, which is pretty much every movie he stars in.

Perhaps Hostel works best not as a horror film, or a suspense thriller, but as a gratuitously vile, extremely dark comedy about -- I'm totally serious here -- the nature of extralegal commodities and the circulation of global capital. The lads, clearly firm believers in the myth of the free market, liberally and unthinkingly invest their American dollars in increasingly illicit activities, and are promptly pimpslapped hard by the invisible hand. The joke, of course, is that in real life, torture is already outsourced, and that's no laughing matter.

Posted by the wily filipino at August 24, 2006 07:57 PM

Yes, the Hostel was surprisingly OK. However, it needed more gore to be on a best of list. But this is a guy who loves the Flesh triology!

Posted by: brown on August 25, 2006 10:21 PM

I think they've classified Hostel and new batch of gorefest movies (eg Saw) as 'Horror-Porn'.

Oh and this was Roth's take on a story about tourists in Thailand. Of course he just wanted gratuitous gore and boobies. Definitely miles away from Audition or even Old Boy.

Posted by: markmomukhamo on August 26, 2006 12:36 AM
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