3 backpackers are in Amsterdam where they get locked out of their youth hostel. They are invited into a man's house where he tells them of a hostel somewhere in eastern Europe where the women are all incredibly hot and have a taste for American men. When they get there, everything is too good to be true - the hostel is "to die for" Written by
I just got back from an L.A. screening of Hostel. I haven't seen an effective horror film like this in a long time. My stomach was still knotted up after we left the screening. The last time I felt like that was when I saw ALIENS for the first time about 19 years ago. Since then, no other horror film has ever made me feel like that. I certainly didn't expect it from this one. As much as I loved Cabin Fever, I'm not blind to the shortcomings of its script. As such,I was expecting more of the same from Hostel - dark humor, gore, and a sense of dread. I'm happy to see that director Eli Roth has taken a big step forward in becoming a better storyteller and filmmaker.
Admittedly my heart sank when the film began. The scenes introducing the main characters were blandly shot and edited. All I could think was, 'Oh no. Roth succumbed to some unseen studio pressure to make a normal-looking horror flick'. The style was typical of the what you'd see in crap like I know what you did last summer. But in very subtle ways, the blandness gets washed away and as our heroes enter the threshold of Hell, the style of the film changes as well. This, I learned during the Q&A afterwards with Roth, was intentional.
If you've read some of the other reviews posted here from people who saw it at the Toronto Film Festival, you get the general idea of the story. Contrary to what you might've heard, this is not a 90 minute film on torture. The torture scenes are brief and to the point. Roth doesn't wallow in pointless gore. And this is where I think it shows how he's improved as a filmmaker. He's more interested in scenes and ideas that move the story forward. Yes, there is plenty of gore, but it's relevant to the story and doesn't exist just for it's own sake.
One of the aspects of this film that made it so powerful was how Roth created a sense of helpless and inevitability. He provides the dark setup, throws in a sympathetic character, and begins twisting the screws and ratcheting up the suspense. This isn't a movie where you turn off your brain to enjoy it. On the contrary. The more you think about it, the more horrifying it becomes. You begin putting yourself into the character's situation and wondering what you'd do. When you realize that there is no hope for the character, no way to escape, no 'buddy' who's gonna turn up at the last minute to save the hero, and not a shred of humanity or compassion to the antagonists, real fear begins to set in.
Another great element in the script is how the 'survivor' makes moral choices that define their character. Instead of being merely reactive like the characters in Cabin Fever, the survivor makes several decisions which change the course of the story. It's a sign of well thought-out script and a filmmaker who cares about the fate of his characters.
For horror fans, this is an absolute must-see. It's so refreshing to see a horror movie that actually makes you feel uncomfortable and one in which you have no idea what's going to happen next. As for the gore, I was surprised by what they got away with. Although there were no credits at the end of the film, the cut I saw was rated R by the MPAA and according to Roth, he didn't cut anything out.
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