Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hostel intent

Just because Fun-Sized Snickers bars are on deep clearance doesn't mean the season is over! 'Tis the season for pleasin', and last night I intended to rock my world with a new horror experience.
I'm a fairly big fan of Eli Roth's first major motion picture, Cabin Fever. It has the perfect blend of horror, goofball comedy, and children doing karate (!!!), and it's a rewarding movie to watch or rewatch with a bunch of friends. Plus, it stars Mr. Feeny's archenemy. "Mr. Hunter, would you please pay attention in my class? Your skin is being eaten away by some sort of zombie bacteria, and furthermore there's some freaking pasty-white kid doing roundhouse kicks and shouting 'PANCAKES' at high volumes! MR. HUNTER!" So it seemed like a no-brainer to pick Hostel from the smattering of recent horror offerings presented to me last evening.

The first strike against Hostel is that it does not feature any "Boy Meets World" alumni. Not even the guy that played Eric, and you know he's hurting for work. That's probably the least of my qualms, though, so I'll move on.

Our unlikely hero is played by Jay Hernandez, who you might remember from absolutely nothing. He and his two buddies are backpacking across Europe and having an excellent time--smokin' chronic blunts and bonin' hoes. A man tells them about a rockin' hostel in eastern Europe that is swimming with horny babes, and of course they are all over it. The modern horror movie is a bit of a mystery to me, but this seems like a lot of exposition. Halfway through the movie, I found myself asking, "Shouldn't there be a few lost limbs by now?"

The film presented here is extremely uneven. Where Roth's directorial debut featured an intermingling of all of its elements--you never knew if a scare was for real or for laughs--this seems like two seperate films. Literally the first half of the movie (over forty minutes) plays like a stoner comedy. Amsterdam jokes! Silly foreigners! Sex and boobs! Eventually, weird stuff starts happening and Jay Hernandez (whose character probably has a name, but who really cares?) finds himself at the whim of a cackling German with a pair of scissors and an arsenal of gardening equipment.

This second half of the movie, though, isn't particularly scary. It's as if Roth wanted uneasy stomachs instead of uneasy brains. We see sliced Achilles' tendons, unsocketed eyeballs, disembodied fingers, and pureed human bodies. What we don't dwell on is the fear. These characters are all being tortured, and yet blood starts flying three minutes into each session.

Because of the solid, "ultra-serious" tone of the second half of the movie, some of the supposedly-humorous bits at the end seem out of place. The roving gang of street-children that made me chuckle in the beginning become tiresome around the point when they become plot-relevant. They do, however, get credit for the best kill in the movie, as the ten-year-olds attack some pursuing villains.

There's no joy in Hostel. Maybe it's weird that I think there should be joy in a movie about torturing teenagers to death, but I do. My favorite horror movies--including a number of the Nightmare on Elm St. and Friday the 13th movies--do their killing with a wink and a nudge. They know they're not the most realistic thing in the world, so they think up fun and inventive ways for the villains to get their kicks. Maybe this will be remedied in the forthcoming Hostel 2, but I'm not sure I'll be around to find out.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Other spooky posts:


Anonymous said...

here the 10 top blog of 2006

Spoodles said...


kate said...

ryder strong is such a dreamboat

Chris The Great said...

Cool Mike, I always appreciate your commentary on films, but I have to give a hearty "shame on you" for your hackery of a review on Hostel! Ok, it wasn't a "hackery", but it seemed appropriate since it IS a review on a horror film.

I realize that your review is your opinion, but I strongly suggest you watch this flick again after reading what I have to say, and possibly write a review at second glance...

I personally believed Hostel was a work of genius. I think it unfair and unjust to compare it to Cabin Fever because although they share the same writer and director, the drive behind each film was completely different. Cabin Fever was made as a gross out dark comedy. Hostel was made to be based in reality. Sure if you see a movie advertising torture the start of the movie is long and uneventful, but if you expect to see a movie based in reality, it does a good job with the long beginning. I believe Roth wanted the viewer to be able to relate to the doomed subjects. Let's face it, the target audience of modern horror flicks are between 18 and 25, a majority of which enjoy recreational drugs, sex, and the dramas of everyday life. Roth uses not only correct slang (calling things "gay", for instance...), but delivers on how the target audience rationalizes situations. If anything, the film was commentary on how mindless youth of the world will most likely be the first "to go", so to speak.

And the transition between this happy-go-lucky vacation to the horrors of the second act is practically nil, which is not what people are used to in films, but are VERY used to in real life. There's never a build up to the horror in real life. It's very sudden and often without explanation. It's hard to believe a place like that could exist, but not completely impossible. Money can buy you anything... anything at all. And Roth himself even stated that the original film was to be a documentary on how a foreign mafia actually offered these services for the right about of money, but because it's still an issue and involves a mafia, he figured it'd be too dangerous to delve into it at this point, and wrote this film instead.

The movie may not fit the mold of "horror" films, but do we really want it to? Slasher films played out in the late 80's, with Ghostface and that hooded guy from "I Know What You Did Last Summer" being pop culture icons of their time. They'll never out live Freddy, Mike, Jason, or even Chucky. Roth's formula for Hostel is what the genre needed: a reality based movie that connects the viewer closer to the character and situation more-so than the idea that it's "just a movie". And while it may only be a movie, the situation is unsettling because it could happen. It's not very likely, but when you're in a strange country with strange people... as a traveller it can often seem like just about anything can happen. Sometimes it's a magically feeling but if you've ever gone down the wrong streets in a strange city (or even your own) you'll know that the feeling can also be scary and uneasy.

I ask that you give the film a second chance because I'm sure you can appreciate how well the film was actually done!

Silliker said...

I suspect your tongue was stuck fast to your cheek when you titled this!

I don't fully agree with seiberts assessment of the films potential real-life accuracy.
Whilst it is more realistic in the sense that there aren't zombies rising from the dead or killers inexplicably in every closet, it has taken some liberty.

-its based on a Thai website eli ran into. It is unverified and no follow ups. The site advertised the ability to shoot someone for 10 grand, IIRC. Strangely enough the victim would be consenting as their family would get the money (according to report). Nevertheless, for all we know the site was a joke. There are no such reports of any activity or crimes. I believe the mafia part is myth. Today they mostly deal with drugs, which actually have a demand.

-A secret too big. Something this big and unweildy would get discovered in no time. If something like this could be found via a google search you can imagine the authorities would be one step ahead.

-rest assured wealthy western tourists aren't going to be the victims. Rather, the shoe is on the other foot. More likely the victim would be a poor local.

-I've heard that the film portrays a bit of ugly Americanism. E.G. plays on old stereotypes of weirdo Germans, "eastern europe" is full of barbarians, you're only safe in America etc.

Ironically, I think this is where its hubris lies. As Mike stated, it takes itself too seriously.

I find it a bit strange to try to make a "realistic horror" movie as this seems a contradiction in terms.

A horror movie shouldn't be thinly disguised morality lesson. When you try to conbine two themes it often comes at the expense of both. Example: Christian rock. Lousy rock, poor Christian message.

Its been said said that horror is an exaggerated comedy. Hence...your "ultra" horror films border on increasingly bizarre absurdity.

1 victim is a tragedy, 1,000 is pretty funny...sort of.

Most horror, particularly slasher films, bask in the situational awkardness. The interaction is unrealistic and almost comical.

I can't fully explain the keypiece of crude instruments in horror movies. I suppose that is a lengthier discussion

All good points from both of you. I'm probably not the best reviewer of horror movies as I'm a fan of neither (don't watch movies, don't like horror).

I do agree on Seiberts point about things turning bad quick. All too often you're going along smoothly, only to find yourself over your head and sinking fast.

*And lastly, hows Ship going?

Spoodles said...

Hey guys. Thanks for the comments. I'll take what both of you said into consideration and try to work with the movie some more in my head.

As far as rewatching the movie: I can't promise, but I promise I'll try. There are so many movies I've never seen (which, in turn, can generate some content for this site) that rewatching something seems like a daunting task. Also, I'm writing the great American novel.

Spoodles said...

Oh, and Ship is going well, Silliker. How is it going for you?

Wes said...

Actually, Will Friedle isn't hurting for work at all -- dude has had an incredibly prolific career as a voice actor. Does Ron Stoppable sound familiar to you? ;)