A Hostile Environment
When he's not splashing his name allover his own movies, Quentin Tarantino keeps busy by recommending and "presenting" others. And he's not afraid of losing credibility. According to the commercials Tarantino called "Wolf Creek" one of the scariest movies he'd ever seen. I must have watched a different version.
On the first widely released horror movie of 2006, not only does Tarantino recommend Eli Roth's "Hostel," but his name also appears in the credits as a presenter. What the actual contribution a presenter has on a film beside publicity is - I believe - a well kept secret. The great Wes Craven presented "They" but that didn't keep it from sucking. But maybe Tarantino is a better presenter.
"Hostel" is the second mainstream film by Eli Roth, whose "Cabin Fever" was a playful throwback to 70s gritty horror. It was gory, to be sure, but much lighter than Roth's second effort - aptly described by the title's homophone.
The heroes, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), are backpacking through Europe supplied with what must be unlimited funds; an impressive feat for an aspiring writer and his law student friend. Like the gang from the much peachier film "Eurotrip," Paxton and Josh don't have the sexy Michelle Trachtenberg around to keep them straight and on good behavior.
Seeking sex, drugs and all-out debauchery, our eager American pals will do just about anything to avoid spending any of their precious vacation time in some boring museum. Amsterdam is where the decadence begins, but a high number of obnoxious Americans has them seeking a destination outside the tourist-friendly districts. As fate would have it the guys meet a stranger who easily convinces them to take a train to Slovakia, where there's a hostel with incredibly hot women who will do just about anything for foreign American boys. That idea alone should sound off an alarm, but our friends are, well...stoned and horny and looking for a hands-on experience in multiculturalism.
They are joined by Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), an Icelandic hedonist thrill-seeker who also has dreams of endless hash and sex with as many foreign girls as possible. Not long after arriving in the dilapidated former Soviet bloc that is Slovakia, our adventurers find the hostel they were looking for, and are met by Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova) and Svetlana (Jana Kaderabkova), their two roommates who are as hot as their names imply.
At this point in the film, some 35 minutes running, we start to get a little comfortable but in the back of our minds we know something ominous is just around the corner. The girls are too willing to get naked, the locals are faux friendly, and this is an Eli Roth movie - and nothing bad has happened yet!
Oh, but our boy Eli doesn't disappoint. What started as a crazy backpacking journey through Europe descends into the worst kind of sadistic depravity. Suckered into a slaughterhouse not found in any Frommer's book, the vacationers find themselves at the mercy of twisted clients who pay big money to hunt, torture and kill humans.
Blood gushes, limbs slice, ligaments tear, and bullets fly as the mayhem Roth treats us to has no limits. And while it all sounds like a delightful bloodbath it's quite disturbing and the characters - despite their immoral nature and questionable dialogue - garner more sympathy than the trio did in "Wolf Creek."
Despite its ludicrousness there's a level of plausibility to the story. Here these guys are - young, naive, and in an unfamiliar country plagued by a non-existent economy. If human trafficking exists in some parts of the world such as in Central America (and it does - flourishingly) surely one can believe that such an operation exists where prostitution is the big industry, and people will do just about anything for money; paid by those who will do just about anything to live out their most perverted fantasies.
It's a creepy thought and Roth exploits it to the fullest. Certainly no one will be planning an immediate trip to Slovakia after watching this flick. Most horror buffs will be drawn to "Hostel," although some will find it scarier than others. The ads cleverly warn potential audiences that emergency medial services had to be called out to previous screenings due to horrific reactions to the film, and if those stories are true I would believe the reaction was more likely to have been caused by whatever drugs they were on than the film itself - though to its credit no other movie since "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" has made a chainsaw sound so frightening.
It gets kind of preposterous near the end, as one of our heroes attempts to escape from captivity and settle a few scores. Yes I was rooting for him; something I don't normally do for character in horror movies. Credit Roth, for he is quickly establishing himself as a prominent filmmaker. Someone needs to tell him to let go of Quentin Tarantino. He's his own entity now with many more opportunities in the future to keep us squirming in our seats.