Wednesday, May 03, 2006



Dir: Eli Roth (Cabin Fever)

Another in a recent series of horror movies that focus on the deep seated cruelty of humans as opposed to unthinking monsters or axe-wielding maniacs. The terror is supposed to come from the dramatization of what people are capable of doing to each other through psychological torment or physical torture. I have no problem with this approach, nor with the graphic presentation of the evisceration of the human body in the interests of dramatic effect. But I do have a problem with dumb movies, and Hostel is square in the latter camp.

In hindsight, "Saw" grows in my esteem as an effective approach to this genre. There, ordinary people are thrust into dilemmas of masochism where they must choose between death or some unspeakable deed. The voyeuristic elements of that film reflect our own fascination at seeing the human psyche pushed to the limits of the survival instinct. That movie had genuine tension as we put ourselves in the place of the victims.

"Hostel" retains the torture, but evacuates any of the thought provoking elements. Three young men travel Europe looking for weed and women. The film's first act is one of the most ridiculous realizations of the adolescent male fantasy I have seen on film. Every woman is promiscuous, gorgeous, and stupid. Public sex, random sex, drunken sex, crazy hump-a-stranger-in-the-bathroom-while-I-send-a-picture-to-my-buddy's-cell-phone sex. In Amsterdam, our heores hear that there is an even freakier hostel in Slovakia. So off they go, where indeed the women are quick and ready. I often wonder whether these young actresses are proud of their roles. "Look mom, I am in the movies! I'm the third naked girl in the back of the sauna!"

Somewhere along the way, the boys end up as hostages in a torture camp, where men pay for the experience of killing people. There's an escape, blah blah blah. The story is not important. This movie is about breasts and gore. 14 year old boys everywhere have hit the motherlode.

The gore is not nearly as scary as "Saw" because it lacks a psychological angle. And of course this giant torture complex, that apparently employs hundreds of people, advertises and attracts clients from across the globe, defies all believeability. One scene in the film attempts to reckon with the issues raised by a giant pay-per-torture complex, a monologue by one of the clients. He proclaims that chasing pussy (his words, not mine) has gotten stale, doesn't give the thrill of conquest like it used to. So, he thought slowly torturing a Japanese girl would fill the void. It is possible that the film was trying to critique its own audience, connecting using women sexually with violence itself. That might indict the whole first act and show how the mysoginy of the young men led to the culture that objectifies the body. Or it is far more likely that Mr. Roth had no idea what he was writing. Let's just say that I was rooting for the torturers, and this monlogue did a good job of explaining why I was.

"Hostel" represents demographic targeting at its most ruthless. This adolescent Utopia of flesh, in both of its meanings, is offensive for its sexual politics, not its gore. And its gore is not near cool enough to compensate for that.