- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

Young horror auteur Eli Roth is a cut above the rest, and we’re not talking about the trail of dismembered body parts he leaves in his celluloid wake.

The man behind “Cabin Fever” and, now, the frequently disturbing “Hostel,” coaxes gritty performances from his no-name casts, and his eye for the morbid is leagues beyond his gross-out peers.

That said, he’s yet to make a true horror film, and that’s certainly damning considering his stock in trade.

Both “Fever” and “Hostel” rely on the puerile and grotesque to make us clutch our armrests. He doesn’t see the need to build suspense in the traditional horror genre fashion. He’d rather make our most recent meal gurgle uncomfortably inour bellies.

“Hostel” ratchets up the gore from his 2003 debut, but he takes his sweet time getting to the snipped appendages.

Three young and randy twentysomethings are backpacking through Europe seeking a bit of fun.

Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), along with their Icelandic pal Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), are sampling the best of what Amsterdam’s nightlife has to offer when they learn there’s even more hedonism going down in a Slovakian hostel. Off they go, despite the fact that they’re already having the time of their young lives. These ugly Americans are a greedy lot, and Oli is only too happy to egg them on. It’s one of several intriguing subtexts Mr. Roth introduces before getting down to business.

Once in Slovakia, their wildest fantasies come true. Slinky, half-naked women pounce on them and Mr. Roth cranks up the gratuitous nudity as if Hugh Hefner were doing the cinematography.

It’s all grand fun until Oli disappears. Paxton and Josh try to party on, but their friend’s absence makes it impossible. Soon, Josh joins Oli among the missing, but the hostel employees’ reactions to the news rings hollow.

Anyone who saw “Hostel’s” lurid trailer knows precisely where the missing end up — a torture chamber of unrelenting pain and suffering. And we’re privy to every ounce of flesh assaulted by the torturer’s tool kit.

A few sequences will stick to viewers for some time, including one victim’s eye-popping assault and a neat escape fueled by some slippery blood.

Mr. Roth succumbs to his baser instincts both in “Fever” and in “Hostel,” but he has more on his blood-streaked mind than just mayhem. Some will spot a rash of moral equivalency here, in that the butchers pay for their victims much like tourists pay to fulfill their sexual needs.

For all its nonstop nudity, “Hostel” paints the red light district as a slippery slope toward ultimate moral decay. We see it throughout the final sequences, most notably during a chase in which Paxton nearly strangles a thieving child for taking his cell phone.

“Hostel’s” pedestrian first half, sure to be fast-forwarded by gore junkies when the DVD version reaches Best Buy, gives way to a brutal montage of tortures meant to make us wince and squirm. Done and done, but after the film’s atypical plotting we expect a bit more than the revenge fantasy that brings “Hostel” to its seedy close.

Mr. Roth’s “Hostel” is a place strictly for genre fans, but even they might think twice about film debauchery after seeing the horrors he has in store for them.

**1/2

TITLE “Hostel”

RATING: R (sadistic violence, gore, copious nudity, sexual situations, adult language and drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Eli Roth; executive produced by Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel and Quentin Tarantino.

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

WEB SITE: www.hostelfilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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