Tempted by a stranger on a Eurotrain, travellers Paxton (Hernandez), Josh (Richardson) and Oli (Gudjonsson) wander off the backpack map and book in to a hostel boasting a roster of European ladies. What sounds like heaven fires into hell, as sinister forces propel our trio into a world of pain...
Not to cause any reader distress, but if you’ve seen Audition, all it takes is one simple word to retrigger the nausea: ankles. So, in anticipation of anybody going to see Hostel and rereading this review, here’s one for the memories: yolky eye. Crossing your stomach yet?
Eli Roth’s (Cabin Fever) new movie is a “squirmer”, one of a growing crowd of sado-horrors à la Saw where audiences are sausage-machined through a series of unimaginably ghastly scenarios and come out the other side feeling like they’ve been riding the ghost train on a dentist’s chair. This isn’t jumpy-scary pulp. This is extreme test-your-nerve pulp. But it’s still pulp, and deeply proud of it.
The “Tarantino Presents” tag is more than bluster. QT had script input and, once the film gets into gear, the central set-piece feels like Bring Out The Gimp: The European Remix. Still, there’s another, less fortunate comparison: From Dusk Till Dawn. Hostel’s a movie of two halves, and one of them doesn’t measure up.
Having ragged the fear glands with a creepy tile-washing credit sequence, the mood flattens into a bland fratboy travelogue, complete with routine hash-and-hooker scrapes. Do we really care whether sensitive Josh pops his load with the Amsterdam dominatrix? No, but it does buy us some tits for the trailer. Exposition. Endurance. Fine line. Get to the room with the mucky tiles.
Happily, it delivers on its threat. For all his throwback genre licks (Hostel, bizarrely, has its very own Igor), Roth’s strongest game is playing on primal fears, and he’s a merciless button-pusher. Entering Hostel’s snuff-world is a bit like reliving a running-from-something nightmare with an enchanting twist: somebody’s cut your legs off. You might not feel that deeply for the characters, but you definitely feel their pain. There may also be regrets about eating those nachos early on.
Hostel’s gristle is pretty explicit, but then, in this genre, gratuitous is what you pay for. Cut it, and a key part of Roth’s hell goes with it. In fact, you could even argue this is splatter with conscience, the stupid-but-chilling revelation offering a bitter vision of how the world looks at a post-Guantanamo — and how looks back. It’s this souring aftertaste that lasts longest. Actually, that’s a lie. It’s the yolky eye bit.
A significant change of direction from Cabin Fever, proving Roth can handle more than one type of horror — this is an old-school exercise in shock and gore, with scary ideas and unblinking splatter. The first act’s filler, otherwise it’s a squirmer. Bring a bucket.