1 stars


27th March 2006

Eli Roth's first offering since Cabin Fever follows the latest trend in horror to replace fear and jumps with sadism and brutality, to eschew creeping menace and tension for dismemberment and sex. But, much like its central characters, Hostel is low on style, wit and grace and instead serves up a platter of tits, blood and guts. Some people will no doubt be rubbing their hands, dusting off their Tartan Extreme DVD collection and dimming the lights in anticipation of an uber-hardcore grindhouse shockfest. These people are going to be disappointed, as are the cineastes that may hope for a nod to the 70's genre done with appreciation and reverence.

The Devil's Rejects did the grindhouse thing so much better, because Rob Zombie knows his stuff inside out. Whether or not you enjoyed Rejects is not the point - Zombie threw together a spot-on evocation of grind classics like The Hills Have Eyes, Last House of The Left and so on by filling his cast with horror movie royalty, using bleached film stock for that 70's look and feel and, here's the point, making you care about the characters. Hostel gives you three witless twenty-somethings backpacking around Europe with the express intention of "boning chicks" and "getting fucked up." Loudmouth, Bookish & Icelandic (that's about as deep as Roth bothers to get with creating characters so I can't remember their names) find Amsterdam boring - which is idiotic seeing as their sole concern is drugs and sex - and hear about a Hostel in Slovakia where "ze girls, zey hear your accent and zey vant to fuck you straight away." So they hop on a train and head to this land of milk and honey(s) and upon arrival, discover a place where naked attractive women go for spas and have sex with you just because you're foreign. Then things turn bad.

Sounds like a testosterone-fuelled horror fan's wet dream, right? That's the problem with it, there's nothing else on offer apart from blood and breasts. Great, if you're 16 years old and enjoy watching choke-porn internet sites whilst listening to death-metal music (but quietly, in case you wake your parents and they come in to find you, pants round your ankles, furiously masturbating to a crying Russian teen being humiliated by six men wearing clown masks and cheering). You could argue that the shallow characters and clichéd Slovakians are a clever sub-textual comment on how America is viewed by the rest of the world, but I seriously doubt Roth has the ability to be that subtle in his writing. You get the impression Eli sat with his mate Quentin shouting "FUCK YEAH!" in between bong-hits, thinking up ever-more retarded scenes involving prostitutes and torture. Obvious influence Takashi Miike is notorious for making extreme horror, and in fact the man himself appears in a cameo, but the effect is like hearing a pub-band covering Stairway To Heaven and thinking it gives them some kudos and cool. Roth lacks Miike's class, black humour and willingness to explore places that most people prefer not to think about.

Rob Zombie threw buckets of blood over the walls in The Devil's Rejects but he had the intelligence to make the characters at least partly three-dimensional in their brutality. Roth gives one character a bit of back story where he talks about his previous relationship for all of about 15 seconds before Loudmouth and Iceland point at a window-dancing prostitute and say: "Hope bestiality's legal in Amsterdam, cos she's a fucking hog!" It's hard to give a shit about these characters, their fate or the reasons for what's going on purely because having spent 45 minutes in their company watching them double-team prostitutes and smoke hash, by the time the torture starts you find yourself almost relieved you won't have to suffer them anymore.

Apart from the poorly drawn characters, the selling point of the film - Tits! Torture! - is made redundant by Roth's unwillingness to push the envelope like his hero Miike. Sure, there's lots of nudity in the first hour, but once you've seen one topless whore, you get the point and the couple of sex scenes there are show nothing more than breasts for a few seconds. Several last-minute cutaways spoil the gore, so you go from industrial bolt-cutters about to snip a toe off to a shot of somebody cutting their toenails - way to go. There are a couple of wince-inducing moments and a blow-torch to a woman's face (misogyny rules), but the nastiest scene involves somebody vomiting with a ball-gag in their mouth, which leaves you with a torture-porn film that alludes to snuff movies and grindhouse films of the 1970s with promises of ultra-hardcore violence and sex yet fails to deliver on either front. Sure, the DVD will feature probably a director's cut with awesome extra footage that never made the cinema, but if it means having to sit through another 20 minutes of confused, badly written hormonal teenboy fetish violence then I'll stick with Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and Rob Zombie, thanks.

If Cabin Fever was an over-enthusiastic horror-movie fan who goes giddy over Evil Dead, Rabid and Friday the 13th, then Hostel is like being trapped in a cellar with a gimp-mask wearing humiliation-porn addicted teenager who makes up stories about having sex and then, like, "totally cutting off her fucking head duuude." Gore hounds will feel cheated at the lack of genuine innovation, porn fans will be too busy downloading real naked women being abused by whooping bozos and the rest of us will be pissed that Roth robbed us of 90 minutes with this witless, toothless exercise in schoolboy shock tactics.

More:  Horror  Stinkers
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