Eli Roth became a cult hero in 2003, when his “Cabin Fever” hit theaters and was hailed as a rebirth of the old-school style of blood-and-laughs as found in movies like “Evil Dead II” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Funny one minute, horrific and graphic the next, “Cabin Fever” was soon an underground hit.
Now comes his follow-up, “Hostel,” which is a little lighter on the humor and a little heavier on the torture. It’s a good movie, as these things go, occasionally painful to endure and quite fiendishly devised. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time at the movies, you’re excused from watching it.
The premise, or as much of it as I can tell you without ruining any surprises, is a time-honored classic: attractive young people go someplace unfamiliar and are slaughtered. A few gore flicks let the kids get killed at home (notably the “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” series), but it’s usually when they’re away: camping, on a road trip, or on vacation somewhere. In this case, it’s backpacking through Europe.
Strangely, there are no girls among the potential victims, at least not readily. In fact, the group is small: just Paxton (Jay Hernandez), his best bud Josh (Derek Richardson), and the Icelandic freak they picked up in Paris, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson). Paxton and Josh have just finished college, we gather, and are in Europe to see how much sex they can have. Paxton is the more gregarious of the two; Josh is hesitant and still nursing his wounds after being recently dumped back home. And Oli is a goofball who will do anything.
While looking for debauchery in Amsterdam, the trio learns of a hostel in Slovakia that is legendary for its nubile young women and its general acceptance of all things licentious. And if someone in AMSTERDAM is saying this, then the place must really be swingin’. The boys set out for Slovakia immediately and sure enough, the hostel is everything they dreamed it would be: nude women in the spas, loose women in the discos, liquor and pot flowing through the streets like water.
Then, 45 minutes into the film, the terror starts. There are abductions, and there is torture. It’s interesting to note that the recent release “Wolf Creek” followed the same pattern: 45 minutes of set-up and stalling, followed by 50 minutes of mayhem. The first half of “Wolf Creek” felt repetitive to me, but “Hostel” loads up on frat-boy humor, visual stimulation (in the form of lovely European ladies) and unanticipated plot devices, enough to hold our interest before we really get down to business.
The business, when it is gotten down to, is suitably gruesome and intense, the product of a twisted imagination and a firm grasp of the horror language. Some of the details are more inventive than you would think. Indeed, where most films would be satisfied to have a lunatic with a torture chamber in his basement, Roth goes above and beyond that.
Roth counts Quentin Tarantino among his mentors (and fans), and it would be unfair to dismiss “Hostel” as nothing but a competent delivery system for slash-and-smash yuks. Like Tarantino, Roth composes shots stylishly, amps up the shrieking musical score when the action goes over-the-top, and lets humor emerge from the extremeness of the onscreen scenarios. Even if this type of entertainment doesn’t entertain you, ya gotta admit, it’s pretty slickly done.
B (1 hr., 35 min.; )