With a style as high as its body count — plus the imprimatur of gore connoisseur and presenting entity Quentin Tarantino — “Hostel” may become something of a classic among Fangoria magazine’s readership, acolytes of George Romero and audiences who thought “Saw II” was for babies. Translation to the small screen will be all but impossible given the rain of corpuscles, but theatrical and DVD should spur a moderate downpour. And the aptly termed “director’s cut” is all but inevitable.
One of the better looking horror films of recent vintage, “Hostel,” which showed as a work in progress as a midnighter at the Toronto Film Festival, begins as a dream and turns into a nightmare. Two college pals — Josh (Derek Richardson) and Paxton (Jay Hernandez) — are backpacking across Europe with an Icelander, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), whom they met en route, and pull into Amsterdam for a siege of epic drinking, pot smoking and, hopefully, sex. While there, they are told they should travel to Bratislava, where the Slovakian women are crazy about foreigners, especially Americans. They’re just not told how crazy.
Writer-director Eli Roth’s previous entry in the horror genre, “Cabin Fever,” was about young sex-crazed vacationers attacked by a flesh-eating virus. While never quite sure whether or not it was a parody of itself, “Cabin Fever” had a refreshing degree of unhinged gruesomeness. Likewise, “Hostel.”
Roth apparently based his film on a story about a Thai Internet business through which, for $10,000, one could kill another human being (the victims being so impoverished they were willing to die for their heirs). Roth has moved the tale to an Eastern Europe portrayed the way Transylvania was in a 1930s vampire film, with lascivious beauties intent on seducing and drugging their unwitting American dates so they can be fed into the machinery of recreational death.
Unfortunately, Roth doesn’t let us in on what’s really happening until very late in the game, so much of the violence appears utterly gratuitous and implausible. That there is a motive — money — doesn’t figure in until well after a number of limbs and torsos have been amputated and eviscerated, and the dramatic momentum has been stymied.
Wisely, perhaps, Roth has given us principal characters who are dislikable enough so that the threat of their imminent demise isn’t all that troubling. Oli is a lout, Paxton is a foul-mouthed fratboy and Josh is a social incompetent — characteristics which should have clued them in a lot earlier that something was amiss when Miss Slovakia and her first runner-up (Barbara Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderabkova) come on to them so strongly.
But such are the delusions of characters in horror movies who don’t realize that they’re going to be chopped meat even when they can hear the hum of the chainsaw in their ears.