Directed by Eli Roth
Produced by Mike Fleiss, Eli Roth, Chris Briggs
Written by Eli Roth
Director of Photograpy Milan Chadima
Music by Nathan Barr
Cast: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova
2006/94 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
There are many film critics and journalists (such as Chas. Balun) who have written about the cyclical nature of the popularity of horror films. Horror films will be popular for a few years, drop off in business, and then see a resurgence. Clearly, we are in the middle of a horror upswing (I'm speaking in terms of money made by the films and not the quality of the product.) It's also fairly easy to track the trends within horror films. There is a current notion of bringing back the brutal and no-nonsense films of the 70s and we've seen this in the SAW movies and THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake. HOSTEL is another film which has taken the no-holds barred views of the 1970s and blended it with the global village ideas of the new millennium. But, does this combination work?

HOSTEL tells the story of two Americans, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), who are traveling through Europe with their Icelandic friend, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson). Paxton and Oli enjoy the liberal mood of the city, but Josh is more of the sensitive type and keeps talking about his ex-girlfriend. While partying in Amsterdam, the guys are told that Slovakia is the place to go for a good time. They learn of a hostel where beautiful girls and sex are plentiful. Being the horny young men that they are, the guys immediate take a train across the border. Once in Slovakia, Paxton, Josh, and Oli find that for once, the hype is accurate, as they check into the hostel and within hours are partying with hot women. Unfortunately, their drunken revelry keeps them from noticing that people around them are disappearing. Soon they find themselves involved in a truly horrific situation from which there appears to be no escape.

HOSTEL is an interesting film from writer/director Eli Roth. Roth's first film, CABIN FEVER, garnered a lot of attention in the horror genre world and (from what I can gather cruising the net) has received mixed reviews from fans. (I've only seen the film once, but I remember not liking it at all.) As with CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL deals with horny young people, but Roth takes this common-place idea out of the backwoods and moves it to a literally foreign locale. HOSTEL takes the age-old slasher film idea of "sex equals death" and takes it to a higher level, as Paxton, Josh, and Oli's lust for women takes them to a very dangerous place. Roth also does some juggling with the characterization in the film, as he presents us with three main characters, none of which are completely likable. From there, the characters come and go, live and die, and the audience questions their loyalty to the guys.

While Roth's writing has clearly matured, and the film is technically sound, he still has a difficult time telling a story. The move starts out very promisingly, and while there's not necessarily a great deal of suspense in the movie, there is tension, as the audience begins to realize that the guys are walking into a trap. But, things fall apart during the last third of the film. I'm not giving anything away by saying that there's basically one main character left during the finale...and he's either going to live or die. It's just that simple, and I for one wasn't emotionally invested enough in the characters to really care. There are some interesting action sequences during the last 30 minutes, but I felt very disconnected from them. In the audio commentaries on the DVD, there's a lot of talk of artistic touches in the film, such as the colors and sounds changing as the outlook of the film becomes more bleak, but I would have rather seen more energy put into the story and characters.

So, the story's not that great, but HOSTEL is a kick-ass violent movie right? As far as I'm concerned, not really. Given the marketing, the hype, and some of the on-line comments that I'd read, I expected the film to be wall-to-wall gore. And given the fact that I was viewing the unrated DVD, I fully expected to be grossed out. Unfortunately, I found HOSTEL to be quite tame. Yes, there are scenes of torture and violence, but save for a moment involving a certain crucial tendon, I didn't find the film to be gory or squirm-inducing. There's one thing for sure, nothing comes close to the tension of the "needle pit" in SAW II.

I came away from HOSTEL feeling very divided. Given the fact that I hated CABIN FEVER, I hadn't expected much from Roth's sophomore effort. I was surprised to find that the film had an interesting premise and there were some nice twists along the way. However, the movie wasn't the gorefest that I'd anticipated and ultimately, I found it be somewhat dull. It's clear that Roth is becoming a better filmmaker and maybe his next movie will grab me in the same way that his first two films have impressed others.

HOSTEL carves a niche on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good as the picture is sharp and clear. There is basically on grain at all on the image and there are no defects from the source material. The film has many dark scenes, but the image is well-balanced and the action is always visible. Although the daytime scenes are shot in a fairly naturalized style, the colors are very vibrant, most likely to contrast with the dark scenes. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track offers clear dialogue and sound effects with no distortion. The surround sound effects are good, most notably during the party/club scenes. The last 1/3 of the film makes good use of stereo effects and bass response. Not a demo track per se, but it fits the film.

The HOSTEL DVD has a nice assortment of extras. The DVD contains 4, yes 4, audio commentaries. The first has writer/director Eli Roth, along with executive producers Quentin Tarantino, Boaz Yakin, and Scott Spiegel. The second offers Roth along with editor George Folsey, Jr., actors Barbara Nedeljakova & Eythor Gudjonsson, and Harry Knowles. The third commentary has Roth, producer Chris Briggs, and documentarian Gabriel Roth. And finally, Roth provides a solo commentary.

“HOSTEL Dissected” is a 3-part, 53-minute total behind-the-scenes documentary which covers many aspects of the making of HOSTEL. Eli Roth’s brother Gabriel captures a great deal of on-set footage illustrating the shooting of the film. There is also glimpses into casting, special effects makeup, and the film’s world premiere. The problem with this featurette is that it’s too scattered about and not specific enough. We never get a firm idea from Roth as to where the idea came from or why he wanted to make the film. (Thankfully, this info comes through on the commentary.) The doc does do a good job of showing what it’s like to shoot in a foreign country. “Kill the Car!” is a multi-angle sequence exploring an action scene from the film. So, the question is, given Sony’s reputation will there be a double-dip in HOSTEL? I don’t know. I would have expected more extras, but a great deal of ground is covered in the four commentaries. We’ll have to wait and see.





This Film Features:

Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©

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