Directed by Eli Roth [Other horror films: Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel: Part II (2007), The Green Inferno (2013), Knock Knock (2015)]
I’ve always enjoyed Hostel. It’s gritty, somewhat violent, and overall has a good punch to it.
The basic idea is one that I’ve always found fascinating. While it’s expounded on in Part II, having a business around capturing foreigners and, for a fee, letting people torture and kill them is, as the kids say, neat-o. It’s a fun idea, and setting the factory where these mutilations and massacres take place in Slovakia adds to the charm. Technically, the movie is filmed in the Czech Republic, but Slovakia has a more sinister sound to it, and I always liked the idea. Oh, and that torture museum was beautiful.
Another thing that I’ve always rather enjoyed are the main characters. It’s true that Paxton (Jay Hernandez) starts off as a stereotypical American douchebag, as opposed to Josh (Derek Richardson), who is a more reserved, serious individual, but what makes this notable is that while Josh seems like a good candidate to be the focal point, he’s not. What they do with Paxton is impressive – humanizing him by first letting us know he’s a vegetarian, and then later, having him relay a tragic moment in his past. I never liked Paxton, as a character, when I start this film, but I always find him endearing come the finale, and can’t fault him for any of his actions.
Hernandez (also in Quarantine) does a pretty solid job here. After his friends go missing in Slovakia, he drops his whole party boy aesthetic and goes in detective mode, trying to figure out where they went. The personality of his character is an interesting one, and I think Jay Hernandez was well-suited for the role. Derek Richardson (Reeker) had a Breckin Meyer vibe to him, and I always liked Meyer, so he’s aces in my book. Eythor Gudjonsson had some occasional charm (such as it was), Jan Vlasák was appropriately creepy, and Radomil Uhlir (“You want to get stoned?”) was quality.
Naturally, when it comes to Hostel, the gore is what a lot of people bring up. Perhaps I’m somewhat jaded, but it doesn’t really seem that over-the-top. Sure, you have scenes of fingers being cut off, or a chainsaw cutting through someone’s leg, or perhaps a blowtorch to the face, or an eye being snipped off with a pair of scissors. There’s dismembered body parts being thrown into an incinerator (during a sequence as a whole that was fantastic), and people’s heads being beat in with blunt objects. Overall, it’s a somewhat gory film, but I really don’t know if it’s as bad as some might remember it being.
I can’t say when I first saw Hostel, but I can say that it’s held up every time I’ve revisited it. It’s possible that I enjoy the second movie a smidge more, but this one definitely has a lot going for it, and I’m personally happy that Eli Roth made a movie that’s far better than Cabin Fever. It is a minor shame that some characters didn’t have quite the ending you’d hope for, but the finale as a whole was rewarding, and as many times as I’ve seen this, I still find it a tense and satisfying ride.