Rob Reviews ‘Hostel’

Rob here, to provide my first review for tdaxp. I regret the film I must review, but it’s the latest thing I’ve seen theatrically since ‘King Kong’. The film in question today (Friday the 13th, I might add) is ‘Hostel’ from Eli Roth, of ‘Cabin Fever’ fame. Quentin Tarantino put some money up for the film, but it’s Eli Roth’s piece. Disclaimer: I did not see ‘Cabin Fever’ and I have a general distaste for horror films in general. ‘Signs’ is probably my favorite horror/thriller style film. For me, it’s believable and sophisticated. Oh, and many people can’t figure out why ‘Hostel’ is spelled wrong. The audience that’s attracted to this film probably doesn’t know what a hostel is, so it’s an odd choice for the film’s title. Even though it’s a nice play on words.

I didn’t know anything about this film going into it other than it was supposed to be gory. One of my friends convinced me to go and actually paid my way, so I didn’t mind seeing it. The budget for this film was around $5 million, which is dirt-cheap. Opening weekend pulled just under $20 million. The biggest problem I have with films like this is that people actually want to see them. What about this film draws an audience? Why do people want to see it? A strong ‘R’ rating goes a long way today. The promise of over-the-top gore is becoming the strategy for a successful horror film. And this film has wall-to-wall tits and blood. I’m 24, with a beard, and got carded. That’s good to see because I don’t want anybody seeing this film, let alone underage kids. An example of the violence: a man takes a blow torch to a woman’s face, melting away the face so an eye dangles by it’s nerves. Our ‘hero’ clips the eye from the socket to help the woman escape. Puss ensues. So it goes.

I’m generally a pretty technical guy when it comes to reviewing films. I am able to pay attention to everything a normal person watches, but also the camerawork, lighting, and editing. All of that stuff was par for course in this film, it’s not interesting enough to mention when I have so many other things to say about it. Moving along.

The story is slow in building. I’m more than happy to give a few minor spoilers because I don’t want you to see this film. It follows a few college kids on a drug and sex induced trip across Europe. They stumble across a secret group of rich people that pays big bucks to torture/kill people. Different races cost different amounts to kill. Obviously Americans being the most expensive since, as we all know, everyone hates Americans (?). I am quite sure this film wasn’t written with a message in mind, but I took several disturbing things from it. They are as follows.

The characters are immediately shown getting high and looking for as much random sex as possible, even if they have to pay for it. There is mention of being able to ‘do whatever you want to these women.’ The red light district they enter is a tamer version of what they’ll be seeing later. They are paying for exploitation, just at a different level. The juxtaposition is interesting. Much of the film contains gratuitous nudity, which is disturbing. There are way too many ties between sexuality and brutal violence in this film, even though the two are never fully united. As for the characters, we immediately like them just because they are funny and fairly innocent, but they partake in ‘sin’ so later we are a little okay with them being tortured or killed. Had the writer made these people saints from the get-go, audiences wouldn’t tolerate them being punished.

The audience doesn’t want to see these characters tortured, but when the tables are turned on the villains, the audience loses innocence. We end up cheering on the hero as he chops fingers off. We have become the rich people paying to torture and kill. Is it okay because the people being killed are ‘bad?’ One of the villains punished even has some latent homosexuality. I won’t even go into how this seems to have been put in to make him seem more ‘evil.’ The ‘sexual deviants’ are the ones who need bloodshed to get off and so on. That would be an entirely different review. The movie ends up being about itself. Audiences are paying to see this movie for the same reasons these people are paying to maim. The men paying to torture/kill in the film are doing the same thing. And yes, it’s all men getting off at the prospect of this activity. Perhaps this film is more socially conscious than I give it credit for. Sadly, the people that really wanted to see this film probably aren’t going to come out feeling like they are bad people. And that’s the whole point of the film for me.

15 thoughts on “Rob Reviews ‘Hostel’”

  1. Rob,

    Nice catch on the puritanism.

    Traditional horror is dying, and (from your review) we can see why. Little is left of the Hitchcock formula except murder, blood, gore. Many times the plots are openly recycled — Saw is just a remark of a Twilight Zone episode, etc.

    I don't know if Japanese “new wave” style horror is truly more original (they may be remaking old movies I never heard of), but at least that genre provides an escape from one more Hitchcock derivative.

    And yes, Signs was quite good.

  2. Ringu is amazing. The atmosphere was wonderful, the background was wonderful, the way the actress was “bitchy” within cultural confines was wonderful.

    Ring was a solid translation. For American audiences Ring II may have been better, because it combined the atmosphere of the first movie was humor that domestic audiences expect.

    The Japanese version of the Grudge is also quite good — but for horror where you empathize with the characters, you can't beat Battle Royale or Suicide Circle.

    The latter's a bit too realistic ( ), though

  3. 'The Ring' is probably my 2nd favorite horror film. I didn't want to mention that because I figured it would take a few hundred words to justify why I think it's good. Many people say the American version doesn't live up to 'Ringu', the Japanese original. I had to fast-forward through much of that film because I was so bored. It's just the American film… without the things that make the American film good. A fantastic audio mix that gives me goosebumps, flashy camerawork, and a great color palette are all great things brought to the remake. The remake is a mediocre concept done really really well. Oh, and the sequel doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned.

    Yes, the horror film genre is decaying into a 5th grade gross-out competion. Hitchcock was the master of audience manipulation. 'Psycho' is the ultimate example. Every scene perversely affects the audience. Not many directors can weave such intricate webs. This sounds odd, but watching 'King Kong' was the closest I've felt to watching Hitchcock in a long time. I found myself feeling exactly the way I knew Jackson wanted me to. I caught myself several times behaving like a typical audience member and mentaly chided Jackson for having such control over me. It's almost as if directors of today have lost the confidence to reach an audience, so they try to shock them. Just because we've never seen a certain appendage get cut off, doesn't mean we need to.

  4. Rob,

    Interesting on how every scene in Psycho and King Kong was manipulative. You should post an example of this sometime. tdaxp could use a film theorist! 🙂

    The Daily Nebraskan, our student newspaper here at UNL, posted a review of Hostel that agrees with yours.

    “Simply put, the film feels extremely hollow.

    Audiences will likely be drawn by both the promise of excessive gore (and no, you won’t be leaving the theatre in an ambulance, despite the previews indicating that it was a possibility) and the attachment of Quentin Tarantino’s name, which, despite his being both an executive producer and a cameo actor here, is displayed a little too boldly to seem relevant.

    To make one “Hostel,” simply mix of equal parts Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “Ichi the Killer”), 1970s Italian horror (George A. Romero, Mario Bava) and “American Pie”-esque ultra-low-brow comedy, then dilute to the potency of McDonald’s orange drink.”

  5. You really liked Signs? I thought it was horrible.

    I didn't see Hostel, after reading reviews like this one. It sounds more like a gore movie than an actual “horror” movie, even if it does borrow Hitchcock's trick of having the sexually deviant characters get punished. Hitchcock however, kept his films very tight, not including any unnecessary shots. I felt King Kong was too indulgent.

  6. I'll admit 'Signs' had it's share of cheese, but I enjoy invasion films. This one was basically 'Independence Day' from a farmer's standpoint. It's about the people rather than the invasion. The aliens are a sidenote.

    Yes, 'King Kong' was indulgent all the way through, but that doesn't mean Jackson wasn't controlling the audience. This film was a popcorn flick from start to finish. It was mostly computer generated but, like the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, was done in a realistic manner. Films like 'Revenge of the Sith' look like cartoons for the most part. 'King Kong' ends up being exactly what it sets out to be… entertainment. I never groaned once in 'Kong', unlike in the last few 'Star Wars' films. The length is an issue, but my dad is a perfect example of John Q. He rarely sees movies and told me he wanted to see 'Kong.' I told him it was 3 hours and he said, 'At least you get your money's worth.' The main factor I was comparing to Hitchcock was just my own feeling of being manipulated. I was feeling what Jackson wanted me to feel… in his popcorn flick. As Anne hangs from the teeth of a T-Rex, over the mouth of another… I found myself in a fit of anxiety and awe. In that moment I said, 'Bravo, Peter Jackson, bravo.'

    And Dan, I would enjoy putting some time into some film theory here. I just have to find that time first. It was hard enough to condense my review of 'Hostel' down to how short it was.

  7. I'm actually shocked at the number of people that don't like 'Signs'. I say this mainly because I loved it. I still think it's one of the best scary movies of all time.
    I just watched 'Saw' last night and was impressed. It was ambitious of them to take on a movie where people would be examining the plot for holes throughout the film.
    I miss good monster-scary films though. The Ring was okay, but I was never that scared and Ring 2 was something I would use for torturing Gitmo detainees.
    “Watch it! Watch the awful movie!”
    “No, no! The plot, it is not making sense and the deer are painfully fake! I'll tell you anything!!”

    But yeah, I miss monster and supernatural movies.

  8. Biz,

    Lumberg was in Ring 2. If that's not enough to save a movie, you're beyond hope.


    Good catch on Signs being ID4 from a farmer's perspective. All sorts of cool stuff have to be happening at the same time as Mel Gibon is figuring out what to do. But we never see that. We see Mel's family.

    I look forward to anything film-theory-y. Curtis from Phatic Communion posts a good deal of poetry theory [1], and Larry writes a lot on electronics [2], both of which the blogosphere scours for meaning. Imagine a Film-Theory-oriented model of warfare! 🙂

    Keep up the great work. With this comment, your post is the most discussed thread in a month! Congrats!!


  9. Lumbergh was in A Very Brady Movie. That doesn't make it good. But strangely enough, he is the voice of Harvey Birdman.

  10. “Lumbergh was in A Very Brady Movie. That doesn't make it good. But strangely enough, he is the voice of Harvey Birdman”

    Point taken. Both are awful.

  11. “Many times the plots are openly recycled…” From Dan

    This is a problem in all aspects of movie making. Based on this statement alone, you shouldn't go see King Kong, which is a movie highly recommended by our esteemed reviewer.

    “Many people say the American version doesn't live up to 'Ringu', the Japanese original” From Rob

    I think a major reason for this claim is because they saw Ringu first. Generally, the copycat of an original film is less interesting because you have experienced most of what it has to offer already. It's like King Kong. I know what's going to happen, I know the direction the story goes, and by the end of the movie I can honestly say I've seen this before and I stopped caring. I agree with the statement that it was over indulgent. The fight scene with the T-Rex(s) is so ridiculous I was ready to leave by the end of it.

    “so they try to shock…” From Rob

    This is funny coming from a man who claimed Sin City was the #1 movie to watch last year. While the visual style was certainly something to behold, I'd hardly call this a movie that was out to dazzle you with story, characters, or a deep theme. Most of the violence in this movie was stylized and even more effective in some cases than that seen in Hostel.

    But now that I'm caught up on responses, and I apologize for the line by line, I really just have one question for the Rob man himself. What exactly is the difference, in your mind, between a movie to entertain, and a movie created as art? I've noticed that in a number of your reviews (not written ones, but when we've discussed movies) anytime I've given a movie criticism, you quickly dismiss it because the movie was a popcorn flick made to entertain. Yet, it seems that when you review a movie you dislike, you place it on the different pedestal of not living up to your expectations as a work of art (in both story and technical ability).

    Finally, I think your review is pretty spot on, though I'm not against seeing the movie. Personally, I was able to sit through it, leave pondering the exact same thought of how I'm no different than the “monsters” of the film, and then quickly dismiss it since no one was actually hurt and I am not personally slaughtering vacationers. Unlike the monsters, I have many outlets for my repressed violent urges that aren't nearly as grotesque (though one would say my love of Trauma Center for the DS is masochistic). Obviously the movie is not as hollow as other reviewers might lead everyone to believe, since you were able to extract a fairly complicated theme (for horror) from a movie that is quickly dismissed as merely shock.

  12. Where do I draw the line between 'art' and 'entertainment?' That's a good question. I think I've discovered that if I think a film is supposed to be entertainment, but I'm not entertained, it starts sliding into a different category. That's probably a personal weakness on my part. Since I didn't see 'Hostel' as art, but wasn't entertained, I decide it's just plain bad. 'King Kong' entertained me, but wasn't art. 'King Kong' is the sort of spectacle I WANT to like. So was 'Revenge of the Sith'…. yuck. I sort of lump films into 4 descending levels. I could do an info graphic but I don't have that kind of time. Again, not living up to tdaxp standards. Anyway…

    Good and entertaining
    Good but not entertaining
    Bad but entertaining
    Bad and not entertaining

    That's as simple as I can break my opinion down into. But that's all relative. 'Hostel' was bad and not entertaining for me. What's entertaining to me isn't entertaining to everyone. My affection for 'Kong' might have to do with the tone. It's a lighthearted romp of sorts. The first half hour sets a tone that allows you to relax and not take things too seriously. It was like relaxing with a good cut screen from a game. 'Hostel' tries to be light in the beginning, but then becomes an entirely different film. It tries to be funny and hip in the beginning by showing what kids want to see, I guess. It's a long, painful setup. Then it's just gore. I will say that if I had any love for gore, I would have a different opinion of the film. I don't appreciate the gore in 'Sin City', but it's stylized enough to not be taken seriously. 'Hostel' is a dark, serious film once the blood starts spilling. It takes itself seriously, so I'm going to take IT seriously. And for the record, 'Sin City' wasn't my #1 of 2005, but it was pretty high purely for my love of visuals.

    A review is always going to come down to personal preference, but hopefully this clarifies part of my personal approach. Like I said in my review, I don't like that most people want to see 'Hostel.' Maybe I just don't understand the appeal. I understand intelligent people wanting to watch it for their own reasons, like comedic value. It's the 2-dimensional people out there that I'd like to understand. I need to get into Joe Shmoe's head. Well, I suppose I've made enough unrelated points for now. I appreciate the comments Brandon. You're always good for shaking opinions up.

  13. Art is a symbolic representation. To quote the dictionary, ” High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.” [1] It is the incarnation of quality. [2]

    Everything here [3] is art. So is everything here. [4]

    Here's a quote Biz should like: “[Calvin & Hobbes] Bill Watterson believes that art should not be judged by the medium for which it is created (i.e., that there is no “high” art or “low” art, just art).”[5]

    Now, there is a feeling of “nobility” art can have, but I'm not sure how this fits in.

    Would the highest form of art be entirely noble, or both noble & common? Dean Barrett's Chinese civil war fiction is mostly “common,” but has the second-most-moving conclusion of any novel I've read. I don't know the answer to that.


  14. UPDATE: Of course art should be judged in the context of the medium for which it is created. There's a trinary relationship between the viewer, the object, and the medium. Whether it's still-life on canvas or Bunko Zanazawa on vcd doesn't matter – the relationships form the quality, the beauty, the viewer experiences.

    Beauty is Divine, and good art relates us to Him. So of course good art includes high and low aspects. A sterile all-high art is foreign and alien to us — it would be inhumane. Narnia isn't beautiful just because it has a Lion and a Lamb. It also has dancing girls and beer.

    PS: This comment came to me while I was driving to Wal-Mart, and so did this: you could have a really good epistemological (“how do we know things”) science fiction story set in the medium-future, where a “time window” is built that allows us to look into the past. Basically, Arthur C. Clarke's “The Light of Other Days”

    but… add to that that the remaining mysteries of evolution are solved. (Eyes are naturally evolved in highly detailed computer simulations, the Gouldian debate is conclusively resolved, etc). The time window seems to be historically accurate, but also appears to show the literal truth of Genesis 1 and 2, in direct contradiction to the otherwise irrefutable scientific evidence.

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