Of Torture Porn and Bubblegum . . .

So, it’s 2:30 in the morning; Mekaela has already gone to bed, and I am watching Hostel for the first time with no one to protect me but the cat.

Awesome.


*Spoilers are clearly marked at the end of the review in the Spoiler Section*

Hostel’s one of those movies that everyone has an opinion on whether they’ve watched it or not. Before last year, my opinion was, “Eh, not into it.” I didn’t have a lot of interest, not being excited by the rising torture porn genre. (Which is interesting, because I like the first Saw despite the phenomenally bad acting of Cary Elwes . . . I mean, the acting isn’t exactly stellar in any aspect of the movie, although I’ve always kind of enjoyed Ken Leung’s performance, minor as it is {love you, Miles!} but Elwes is particularly bad, and I LIKE Cary Elwes.) Still, I figured that if Hostel was really just two hours of people being cut apart by chainsaws and whatnot, I wasn’t going to waste my time on it. It’s not a question of tastelessness or anything . . . I just think two hours straight of amputation here, eye gouging there, sounds kind of boring.

I had a change of heart last year when Mek and I watched 100 Scariest Movie Moments and 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments on Bravo. (If you’re interested, you can find the lists here, although it’s more exciting to actually watch them with commentary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_100_Scariest_Movie_Moments and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/30_Even_Scarier_Movie_Moments). They showed a scene that happens near the end of the movie, and while I won’t say exactly what happened in the Non-Spoiler section, I will tell you it looked like a serious, “Hell yeah!” moment, and my interest was peeked.

So, I’m going to put it out there . . . I liked Hostel. I liked it a lot. I thought it was a damn good horror film. That doesn’t mean there weren’t flaws . . . most of which I can’t talk about in the Non-Spoiler section . . . but they were actually pretty few and far between. There isn’t a ton of horror in the first thirty minutes, but I thought that balanced pretty well with the sheer tonnage of horror in the last thirty minutes. The concept’s interesting enough. The script is good. The acting’s good. Some of the cinematography’s kind of amazing (albeit in a sick, twisted way). The characters aren’t exactly likeable (Paxton {Jay Hernandez} is especially a winner) but they sure do come off as real twenty-something post-grads to me, and anyway, they aren’t so disgusting and unwatchable that you don’t root for them to escape by the end.

Was there gratuitous violence and nudity in Hostel? You betcha! My God, I saw more tits in 90 minutes than I’ve seen in a lifetime of locker rooms, dressing rooms, and you know, looking down at my own body. On the other hand, I was serious in my review of Prime Evil that I could deal with boob shoots all day if I just didn’t have to look at any more priest molesting grossness. If you’re the type to get offended by nudity for the sake of nudity, for God’s sake, don’t watch this film. You won’t make it fifteen minutes.

Likewise, if you really don’t like in-your-face gore, you aren’t going to like Hostel. There is gore running amok in this movie. Dangling eyeballs, tendon-slicing, head-bashing, falling with chainsaws . . . this one’s got it all, and it doesn’t believe in holding back. That being said, whether you like the characters or not, there are characters in this movie, and the story is more than 90 minutes of murderdeathkill murderdeathkill. There’s been discussion about this movie’s deeper message, you know American’s ignorance of foreign cultures and whatnot, and frankly, I don’t buy any of that for a second, anymore than I really believe that Conan the Barbarian is about Nietzche. Still, it’s a pretty good story, and it’s gross-out fun, and if people can enjoy stupid, dumb action movies, then I don’t see anything wrong with watching grotesque, fun horror films.

Here are some random notes (and maybe a couple of rants) before moving on to the Spoiler Section.

RANDOM NOTES, SOME RANTS, AND A PIZZA PLACE:

1. Okay, you got me: there’s no pizza place. But, there is Slovakia! I can understand why Slovakia might have been just a touch irritated about the representation of their country. I actually paused the movie to write “Note to Self: Never Go to Fucking Slovakia.” Then again, it wasn’t like I was planning to go there anyway, and actually I would visit if I (1) wasn’t going by myself, (2) had my cell phone on me at all times, and (3) had let people know to start looking for me if they hadn’t heard from me in twenty-four hours. Which are basically my rules for travelling to rural Texas, too.

2. I’m sure I’ll get knocked for this, but I meant what I said about the acting: it’s pretty damn believable. I mean, what you need most from your actors in a horror film is the ability to look freaked the fuck out. You’d be surprised by the amount of people who are unable to do this. But the actors make it work here, particularly leads Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson. That’s another thing: while women do get tortured and horribly murdered in Hostel, the majority of violence is done to men, and that’s not exactly the norm in this genre, either.

3. Of course, it’s a little bit of a cliché to have Responsible Friend and Party Boy Friend . . . but Hostel surprised me a couple of times in the script with little details that played with those stereotypes. Like, Josh (Derek Richardson) is the more introverted, shy guy of the group (read: doesn’t feel comfortable having sex with prostitutes) but he’s also surprisingly funny and casual about it, you know, not the stuck up churchy prude that Shy Girl Heroines usually end up being. (There’s an amusing bit where Paxton points out some hot chick to Josh; Josh is like, “Oh, I don’t know . . . she smokes,” and just before Paxton is about to lose his shit, Josh is like, “You’re so easy.” It’s a tiny bit, but it tickled me.) And while I want to be annoyed that our shy guy is both a) a writer and b) asthmatic (like does every nerd in Hollywood have to be asthmatic; seriously, Goonies, I blame YOU) I, myself, am an asthmatic, shy writer, so . . . moving on.

Paxton, on the other hand, is that winner of a guy I mentioned before, and if I had to guess who was the bilingual vegetarian between him and Adorable, Sweet Little Josh, obviously I would not be picking Paxton. And obviously, I would be wrong. For that matter, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) who is an Icelandic backpacker that likes to wiggle his bare ass in people’s faces and visit brothels, also has a six-year daughter that he genuinely seems to care about. It’s not a lot, but Roth gives his characters little details that make them a touch more like people than your average Asshole Jock Boyfriend that gets killed somewhere after the Slut but before the Heroine’s Best Friend.

4. Best Argument for Banging a Prostitute: “You want to be a fucking writer? How about some life experience in that room?” Clearly, this is what I need to do to get my career off the ground.

5. I don’t know if I should credit Eli Roth for this or just the entire sound department, but Hostel brings the creepy noises in a big fucking way. Admittedly, I watched this movie on my computer with headphones on, and you do tend to pick up sound better that way, but still. Whistling, of course, is always creepy (the whistling in this movie reminded me of Kill Bill, although the fact that it started four seconds after the words ‘Quentin Tarantino Presents’ came on screen probably had something to do with it). I definitely enjoyed those great, PLOPPING noses that happened whenever a piece of flesh would fall and hit the floor, but I especially liked this one scene where they transition from screaming to silence and back to screaming and back to silence really, really nicely. Sound is sometimes an underused component in a horror movie, but it really can help build atmosphere if you do it right, and Hostel does it right.

6. This is the only horror movie so far this year to influence my dreams. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call them nightmares—I didn’t wake up scared or hyperventilating—but there was some definite blood spatter, amputation, and general grossness.

7. I get that Hostel isn’t for everyone. I’m cool with that—I talk to a lot of people with varying tastes in movies, and if I can get through a conversation where Die Hard is described as a slow, badly acted movie without having an ANEURYSM, I can totally agree to disagree with you on Hostel being a good horror film. That being said, in the last 24 hours I’ve read a lot of people’s speculative reviews on the kind of people who like Hostel, and I’m more than a little offended by the idea that I have to be a sociopathic, snuff-film enthusiast who gets sexually aroused by barbaric acts of violence in order to enjoy this film. And the fact that I’m a woman, ye Gods! What kind of a feminist am I, advocating a movie with so many exploitative naked chicks?

Let me be clear on four points: one, I am not a sociopath; two, I never want to watch a snuff film due to this rather subtle line I have distinguishing between real people being murdered and FICTION; three, while I am sexually attracted to fictional bad boys like Spike from BTVS and JD from Heathers I am not sexually attracting to splitting people apart with chainsaws. Losing body parts is not a turn on.

Four, I feel sorry for actresses who are pressured to go nude in order to score a role. It must be scary and frustrating and infuriating, really, because is there a double standard? Of course there is. That being said, women are a lot smarter than men sometimes give them credit for, and they knew what they were getting into when they decided to become an actress. Either they do it and have to make peace with it themselves for going against their morals, or they say, fuck you, agent/director/producer, I’m gonna make it to the big time without taking off my top. Either choice is valid, because it’s THEIR choice to make, not yours. Also: it’s a CHOICE. It may not be a great choice, yes, but no one’s getting shot and tossed to the pig farm if they don’t walk across the screen in their birthday suit. Finally, there are those actresses who are very comfortable with their own bodies and are perfectly content to make some money and get a film credit by being Prostitute 2 in whatever movie. That may be hard for some to believe, but it’s true: not every woman is affronted by the idea of going nude in front of the camera, and that does not make these women bad people or whores.

There. I’m done. End of rant. But, seriously, to sum up: bite me.

8. I don’t know if they hit my Top Ten or not, but the opening credits in Hostel are pretty damn awesome and creepy. Like I said before, I find the movie very visually compelling, and not just all the gore stuff that you might expect. The soap on the dirty wall dripping to the floor . . . the surprisingly cute buildings that supposedly make up Slovakia . . .Paxton and Natalya standing on opposite sides of the room, staring at one another . . . it’s more visually arresting than I was expecting a torture porn to be, not to mention smart. There’s a close up of a character’s bound feet frantically wriggling around as he freaks out, and then you hear a chainsaw, and those feet FREEZE. It’s good stuff.

9. There’s a group of little, evil street children that I’ll talk more about in the Spoiler Section, but they’re featured in one particular scene that really cracks me up: a little after they’ve been introduced as menacing and otherwise not-to-be-fucked with, the band of kids suddenly appear in front of our heroes. The leader of the gang holds his hand out and, very seriously, demands, “Bubblegum!” It amuses to no end. These are the Lost Boys from HELL.

10. Hostel’s has a couple of little homages to other movies: Pulp Fiction is playing in the hostel and Takashi Miike (director of Sukiyaki Western Django and Audition) makes a cameo. There are probably other ones, but I don’t remember them right now.

11. I’m a little afraid of the answer here, but do people really find the ass to be an attractive part of the human body? I don’t get it. I’m all for a guy in a good fitting pair of jeans, but a girl in a thong or even a guy in a thong . . . how is that attractive? Legs, arms, back, boobs, chest, stomach, fucking feet . . . I get all of that, but the butt is not humanity’s best physical feature.

All right, you made it. If you haven’t seen the movie and you want to, look away now, please. I will now tell you everything that happens at the end of this movie.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

All right, where to begin . . . Josh, Paxton, and Oli end up Slovakia because they’re too busy partying and sleeping with hookers to make curfew for their hostel. They get locked out and end up going to a brothel, where Creepy Ass Alex tells them about all the loose women who like to fuck Americans in this amazing hostel with no curfew in Slovakia. The trio is instantly sold.

During the train ride to destination: Hell, the three meet the friendly Dutch Businessman, who’s especially friendly to Josh when he creepily pats him on the thigh and asks, “What’s your nature?” Then they arrive at Slovakia, where they get to the most Amazing, Spectacular Hostel Ever, and it is indeed full of free women who are perfectly happy to screw Americans. (There’s a spa scene that made me giggle a lot; I kept thinking of Road Trip and how in it Tom Green tells a story about two girls talking in a locker room with other girls just strutting around buck ass naked in the background, no matter that most women just don’t do that.)

Everything seems all unwholesome and perfect for Josh, Paxton, and Oli. Alas, a couple of these girls, Natalya and Svetlana, are actually in cahoots with Alex, The Dutch Businessman, and pretty much every other character you meet. The plan: kidnap tourists and charge wealthy dudes a shitload of money to murder them however the hell they want. Americans cost the most to kill. Gosh, we just have to excel at everything!

Of course, Oli was toast; we all knew that. No one expected him to live. Josh, on the other hand, was a little more surprising, considering that he’s the nice, quiet, er, “virtuous” one—a role usually typified by the Sole Surviving Heroine. I suppose Jay Hernandez is slightly more well known (although the only reason I recognized him was from the advertisements of Crazy/Beautiful back in 2001 . . . why is THIS the shit my brain chooses to remember?) Also, Paxton does have this sad little back story (I’ll be bitching about THAT in a few minutes) that you know has to come back somehow. Still, I was a little surprised when Sweet Josh croaked maybe forty-five minutes into the movie, leaving Paxton to run the show for the rest.

Josh’s death scene is actually the freakiest fucking part in the whole movie. Not the death itself, but what happens right before: The Dutch Businessman has Josh strapped to a chair, and we hear him (though don’t see him) slice open both of Josh’s Achilles tendons. Then he unbinds him and gestures towards the open door, saying that Josh is free to go. Josh stands up, and the second he does, we see those tendons OPEN . . . I swear to God, my ankles hurt for the rest of the movie, CHRIST.

When Josh goes missing, Paxton is determined to find him, and even though he clearly doesn’t trust Natalya and Svetlana anymore, he follows their lead to the “art show” where he is quickly grabbed and taken to his own little death room. (The scene where he’s looking left and right into other torture chambers as he’s being dragged backwards is especially nice.) When The German Surgeon comes in to torture/murder him, Paxton starts speaking in German, clearly pleading with him in some manner, although there’s no subtitles . . . a choice I find interesting and rather like. (What he actually says is a little different than I would have guessed, but the overall message comes across anyway.)

Sadly, Paxton only gets ball-gagged for his trouble, which is especially unfortunate when The German Surgeon brings a chainsaw within an inch of his face, and Paxton vomits around the ball-gag, choking. Helpfully, the German Surgeon takes it off (wouldn’t want his victim to die by merely choking, of course) and in the ensuing struggle, Paxton loses a couple of fingers to that chainsaw. The German Surgeon actually slips on the fingers, falls backwards, and takes his own chainsaw to the chest. I might be annoyed by the banana-slip move, but chainsaws are almost not worth it in movies. If you wield one, you’re just as likely to die as the person you’re wielding it against.

Paxton escapes with his two fingers (and a gun) and spends some time trying to make it out of “the art show.” (Kind of like Pet Sematary the real action doesn’t really happen in the hostel . . . it’s the bait for the trap, not the trap itself.) He runs into an obnoxious rich guy who mistakes him for another client, and Paxton’s reactions are priceless as he has to give advice on whether one should draw the death out or making it quick. Then, when he’s at a car in the parking lot and all but escaped, he hears a girl screaming from inside the building . . . it’s Kana, a Japanese girl who was also as the hostel. Paxton can’t leave her behind, so he goes back for her.

Paxton’s not just a noble motherfucker . . . he has a handy back-story explaining this move. Earlier in the film, Paxton tells Josh that he saw a girl drown when he was eight years old. He told the lifeguard on duty, but she wasn’t paying attention, and the girl died. Years later, Paxton still feels like he could have done more and he sometimes hears that girl screaming late at night (the lambs, the lambs! Oh, Clarice!). And I actually don’t mind the story itself . . . even though it’s an obvious set-up/foreshadow for the rest of the film, I think it’s kind of necessary, cause one, Paxton’s not exactly the hero type, and two, he ain’t going back inside to save one girl from one psycho; he’s going back to save one girl from an entire ORGANIZATION of psychos. That goes above and beyond the normal call to bravery. However.

The helpful back-story is just plopped there, out of nowhere, no real transition to it. Josh even asks, “What made you think of this now?” and since I’m assuming Eli Roth couldn’t think of a reason for Paxton to be thinking of it now—or at least to be telling it now—they’re interrupted by The Lost Boys From Hell before any explanation can actually be given. I figured it would come up later, but no, it really doesn’t.

It might seem like a little thing to nitpick at, but in a relatively smart script, there’s really no excuse for just throwing that story out there without your character having a reason to do so. It’s lazy writing, and it’s probably my biggest problem in the movie. Disguise your plot devices, people, at least a little better than this.

Anywho, Paxton saves Kana, and they escape in a car with the bad guys on their tail. Of course, it’s a little convenient for Natalya, Svetlana, and Alex to all just be standing together in the middle of the street, but you do have to establish Alex is a bad guy for the people who haven’t gotten yet, and anyway, it’s a nice pay off when Paxton hits all three of them with his car. (Natalya survives the initial impact, only to be run over five seconds later by the bad guys. Hee. Revenge!)

Not to be outdone, The Lost Boys From Hell make another appearance, demanding more bubblegum from Paxton as he tries to drive to freedom. Thankfully, the car they’ve stolen comes with a whole bag of bubblegum (this was shown earlier, so it’s not as cheap as it sounds.) Sadly, the bad guys chasing them do not have any bubblegum, and The Lost Boys bash in their fucking heads! I kind of love these children, these evil, evil adorable little children.

Paxton and Kana sneak to the train station to get the fuck out of dodge, but their route is blocked. Paxton goes to hide behind some boxes or something, and Kana sees her reflection for the first time. Half her face is all bloody and awful, and she’s missing one of her eyes. (When Paxton initially finds her, that eyeball is dangling from the socket, and Paxton has to cut it off. I haven’t actually decided how I feel about that scene yet . . . this is probably going to sound ridiculous, but it almost seemed like just a bit too much on top of everything else that’s already happened. Then again, when he does snip the eyeball loose, there’s this yellow fluid that starts coming out, and it is a pretty decent shudder moment.)

Anyway, Kana sees her face, and the moment she does, you know what’s about to happen: she commits suicide by jumping in front of one of the trains, allowing Paxton to get on the other train without anyone seeing. I wasn’t really crazy about this development when I watched it . . . you’re so fucking close, Kana; just buy yourself a godamned eye patch . . . but I suppose you have to take culture and individual personality into account, and it’s not entirely unbelievable that she would do this, even if it frustrates the hell out of me.

Just when it looks like all is over, Paxton hears the Dutch Businessman’s voice on the train. He follows him to the next stop and ambushes him in a men’s restroom. (This is the scene that initially interested me in the movie—I really love revenge scenes.) Usually, I’m seriously against killing anyone while they’re on the john—it’s just rude, people—but in this one case, I don’t really feel bad for the guy. Paxton cuts off a few of the Dutch Businessman’s fingers (like his own were cut off) and finally slits the guy’s throat (like the guy did to Josh—not that Paxton would know that, but it’s a nice bit of symmetry, anyway.)

And that’s Hostel, kids.

Yes, there’s exploitation, and yes, there are moments of serious improbability (no one goes into shock or anything, which you think might be the kind of thing that would happen—then again, The Bride cuts off Sophie Fatale’s arm in Kill Bill, and no one seems to mind her amazing, almost god-like ability to never die from blood loss) but with my one serious problem of floating foreshadowy back-story, Hostel’s a pretty damn good movie, and I could easily watch it again.

Grade: A-

Moral of the Story: ohmygod, there are too many. Let me give you a few.

Moral A: Don’t miss your curfew, you jackass.

Moral B: Don’t take travel advice from creepy-looking strangers at brothels.

Moral C: If it looks too good to be true, you’re probably going to lose some fingers to a chainsaw, at the very least.

Let’s go with that one.

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2 Responses to Of Torture Porn and Bubblegum . . .

  1. Becki says:

    “I’m more than a little offended by the idea that I have to be a sociopathic, snuff-film enthusiast who gets sexually aroused by barbaric acts of violence in order to enjoy this film. And the fact that I’m a woman, ye Gods!”

    I have the exact same problem, but for me it’s with the Saw series. I actually liked the Saw movies for the most part, but basically everyone I know is like “Wtf, how can you watch that stuff?”. And yes, there’s a looooot of violence, but there’s also a plot and characters, and I’m in it for that. But people dismiss it because they think it’s 100% torturedeathgore. =\

    Haven’t seen Hostel yet, but I am a bit interested to check it out after reading your review.

    • I know what you mean. I like the first Saw a lot. I didn’t like the second one as much, I think because it didn’t feel as original and fresh to me as the first one, although I will say that I thought the one of the twists at the end was pretty awesome. I haven’t seen the rest of Saw movies, but still, even if I didn’t like any of them, my reaction to you shouldn’t be, “My God, what a tasteless monster are you?” Cause that’s just silly.

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