Thursday, April 20, 2006


"You're so serious, Mr. Serious American."

There needs to be a name for this new sub-genre of non-supernatural torture and murder films to which Wolf Creek, Hostel, Saw and their ilk belong. I've been calling them "bolt cutter movies" because of a particular cringe inducing scene in Hostel. I'm just going to throw this out there and see if people pick up on it. Anyone? Yeah, I know. It's like trying to give yourself a nickname.

Pax and Josh, two young Americans are backpacking through Europe with their Icelandic buddy Oli. During a stay in Amsterdam the three partake of the hash bars and legal prostitution, but as Josh says, "there are too many Americans around." They meet a fellow named Alexi who tells them of a hostel in Slovakia where the women are beautiful and sex-starved. "They hear your accent and they want to f**k you," he says. Guided by their hormones, the three travelers leave for Slovakia in search of hedonistic excess. They find Alexi's hostel and it is everything he promised. The accommodations are suspiciously high-scale and the women are both beautiful and frequently naked.

Things take a dark turn when Oli disappears. Pax receives a text message saying simply "I go home." Josh and Pax don't buy it, though. After a second night of partying with the girls from the hostel, Josh finds himself handcuffed to a chair in a dark room. He is not alone, and the array of pliers and power tools set up on a nearby table serve to assure that Josh is about to have a bad day.

Eli Roth's previous film Cabin Fever mixed the humor with the horror to reasonably good effect. With Hostel he takes a much darker approach, and once we are in the thick of the story there isn't a grin to be had. This is the Unrated Director's Cut, though I can't say I noticed any differences from the theatrical version. I had seen Hostel during it's theatrical run, but I decided to give it a second look on disk and I'm glad I did. My initial viewing had been marred by a director with loose lips. I had listened to an interview with Roth on Rue Morgue Radio and in his zeal to promote the movie he gave away too much, ruining the film's biggest surprise.

Of course, there were no surprises during the second viewing, but then I wasn't expecting to be surprised (again with the oxymorons here) and was better able to appreciate the film. The director does an excellent job of creating a sense of alienation, and of showing how far from home these American students are. Isolation is a key element of horror, and Roth achieves this nicely. I'm reluctant to give too much away, but suffice it to say, once things get rolling even the heartiest of horror fans will have something to squirm about. This is not a masterpiece--the early part of the film feels like Porky's Goes to Amsterdam--but it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

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