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Lots of real life lately: cancer in the family, sick animals, lots to do, a house to sell, Christmas madness. I needed a break. I got an e-mail from my buddy Chris, asking if I'd like to join him on Sunday in seeing Hostel. I hadn't heard of it (I don't watch TV), so dug on the web. I saw the film website. I looked up IMDB. I checked with discussion groups. A film about torture for money in the Eastern Bloc? How did I not know about this?!
First, though: PREVIEWS!
When a Stranger Calls - a remake on one of the most frightening films ever made. I don't know what they're going to do to make it better, but I'm looking forward to this one.
I saw enough about Hostel prior to watching the movie that I was actually looking forward to it. I've been surrounded primarily by romantic comedies and Disney flicks for so long, I'm willing to watch torture. Go figure. I knew that the film was about some kids backpacking through Europe who wind up as main attractions in a pay-for-torture thing. Knowing that already, why bother to go to see the film? I have seen Eli Roth's work already (Cabin Fever) and don't find it to be all that deep. Would I actually be missing anything by not seeing this?
I was pleasantly surprised, though not overly so. There is more to the film than simply what is shown in the trailer. The trailer does nothing to show you what will happen (untimately) to any of our main characters. It doesn't really set anything up or show you the depth of the plot that our "heroes" are caught up in. It doesn't show you the harsh world of Eastern Bloc Europe, where this kind of thing is frighteningly plausible.
Here's the way it works. Point men at various spots in Europe direct likely victims/tourists to a hostel in Bratislava. The women are plentiful and horny, since all of the young men have been sent off to the war. Go there, and all of your sexual fantasies will be fulfilled. Once there, you're shown the time of your life. You won't want to leave. Not immediately. One way or another, you're taken to an abandoned factory that plays host to Elite Hunting. People from all over the world pay to be able to enter a room in which another person is chained to a chair. That paying guest is then allowed to do. . . anything. Murder, torture, rape, and Vogon poetry readings are all cool for the paying guests. The cost breakdown per victim is like this:
The setup is done well. Two Americans and one Icelander are moving around Europe, trying to experience as much as they possibly can. They will presumably drink, smoke or have sex with anything or anyone put in front of them. Josh is the id. Oli is the ego. Paxton is the superego. Early on, facing the red lights in Amsterdam, a bit of foreshadowing is introduced to show us the theme of the movie. Josh expresses some reluctance to use a hooker, because he doesn't like the idea of paying money to go into a room with someone and do whatever he wants to with them.
The second part of the setup is Bratislava. Eli Roth does a good job of portraying the area as what it is: war-torn, hungry and almost without hope. Street gangs of little children will beat strangers to death for the bubble gum in their pockets. Young men are scarce, since so many were killed in the war. Americans are treasured for their wealth, and hated at the same time for the attitudes they show. You can taste the resentment in the air as the Americans (and one Icelander) show up with the intention to spend some money, have sex with locals as much as possible, and leave. With this as a backdrop, the setting makes sense in the film.
One positive aspect of the film is that Eli Roth has grown up, a little. As a director, he has come a long way from the sophoric simplicity that was Cabin Fever. His characters are distinct. His plot, though sometimes unlikely, works within the framework of the film. What had been so jerky and abrupt in his last film now flows the way that it should. He also used some good devices to suck us into the film.
The actors are a mixed bag. Of the main three characters, the only one who is truly believable is Oli. Perhaps because that's what Eythor Gudjonsson is like in real life, and Eli Roth wrote the part specifically for him. The other two are. . . okay. The supporting cast, though, does a great job. The people who work the "art festival" all have the lean and hungry look common to con men and down-and-out prostitutes. The customers all have their own reasons for being there, and Roth makes sure that we get to know just enough about each one to get really creeped out. The Bubble Gum gang is made of street kids that Roth found in Prague.
Gore? There's plenty, though not as much as I suspected/hoped there would be. A lot of the badness is implied, but it's done in a way that makes a primitive part of the brain really churn. There are severed fingers, caved-in skulls, wide-open chests, scissors, a hammer, a chainsaw, an acetylene torch, what looked like a Garden Weasel, and a power drill. Though much of the violence is implied, we see enough to know exactly what's happening. For gore fans out there, it's worthwhile.
Gals, be warned: there are a lot of topless or naked Eastern European women in this.
All in all, I liked it. For the genre, though, I feel like Roth could have pushed it just a little bit further. That may have been the MPAA's doing, but I won't know until the DVD comes out. It was gory, at times ghoulish, and fascinating. It is a far better project than Cabin Fever could ever have been, and I find a lot of pleasure in seeing a young filmmaker figure out what he's doing. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely. If you're a die-hard fan of gore, though, wait for the DVD. THAT is where you're more likely to see something you've never seen on screen before.
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