Are you American? An American male with a healthy sexual appetite? Thinking about backpacking through Europe for nights of fun with eager and well-endowed women? If you have answered yes to two of the above questions, you might want to watch Eli Roth’s film “Hostel” before you voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You should see it for its cautionary tale component and its critique of the stereotypical obnoxious American (male) traveling through Europe in search of something other than culture and fine dining.
“Hostel” follows Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) and their life-shattering experiences vacationing in Europe. The film begins with them partying in Amsterdam with an Icelandic named Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), whom they met in Paris. Upon hearing about a certain hostel filled with European women itching to be scratched, Paxton, Josh, and Oli set off for Bratislava, Slovakia for one more bang before heading to Barcelona, Spain.
Like every ‘good’ movie about travelers making a detour to look for sex, drugs, buried treasure, or a haunted house, “Hostel” thrusts its nubile protagonists into a world of hurt. Their Slovakian stay starts off pleasant enough as two lovely Russian girls also residing at the hostel enthusiastically welcome their company. Josh even gets sensually distracted enough the first night to forget about his ex-girlfriend. Very quickly, however, things spiral in a sinister direction as Oli is nowhere to be found the next morning. Worried, and clearly too kind for their own good, Paxton and Josh stick around, believing that their Icelandic friend will re-appear. Oli does not come back, though; then Josh disappears.
Paxton does what any true friend would do when their best mate goes missing in a foreign country: go to the police. He realizes, for the benefit of the audience, that something isn’t right with the situation. Shortly thereafter, he runs into one of the Russian girls and demands to be taken to wherever it is that she says Josh and Oli have gone: an exhibition of the basest level of human nature. What prevents “Hostel” from fully harnessing the suspense factor in its rising action, climax, and conflict resolution is the insufficient impetus to pity or to feel too badly for Paxton and Josh. Before the film depicts them as insufferable Americans, it presents them as bothersome individuals. There is no crime in wanting a good time, but there is no sympathy for shouting “yeah, f**k you” to people essentially hosting their adventures. Furthermore, points for good behavior are only awarded to Americans who can speak a foreign language.
Controversial for its unnecessary, unjustified exploitation of gore, Roth’s film implicates the audience in its perversity. Never mind that you may like graphically violent films in general or that you thought Roth’s picture was going to be more frightening in the conventional sense than disgusting. You have paid to watch a film about people paying to torture other people. The images that make you go “ewww” are more or less equally split between being on and off screen, as if to strengthen the association between audience-voyeurism and the cruelty inflicted upon the victims of very rich, sick men. If “Hostel” leaves you feeling anything but content, hopefully it is due to weak character development or overall narrative…and not because it wasn’t psychologically or viscerally disturbing enough.
Still considering touring Europe? Sure, go. Have a great time. But, watch “Hostel” before you leave. You should see it not because it’s an achievement in gore films or because it puts human depravity on display—Roth does not do anything that hasn’t already been done in cinema or in psychological experiments. Watch it for reassurance. If something goes wrong on your trip, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself, “At least it’s not ‘Hostel’.”
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