January 24th, 2006

Wedding day

Hostel

This evening Ellen and I went to see Hostel. It was one o' them things where we had to schedule around our jobs, so I had to leave work fifteen minutes early and get to the theater as soon as I could. There might have been other days when scheduling would have been easier, but I had two coupons good for cheap movie tickets, and this was the only night they were good that I was free.

So Hostel. I'm not sure what I thought of it.

If you've seen the trailer, you pretty much know the movie's secrets.

The plot: Two American students are vacationing in Europe and staying in hostels, which (in case you hadn't picked up on it) is where the title of the movie comes from. The first half of the film (maybe slightly less) is booze and drugs and T&A and all the things American kids go to Europe for in movies. Their quest for 'tang (not the drink) takes the students on a detour to Bratislava, where they end up being brutally tortured. I've skipped a big chunk of plot there, but suffice to say that the events in the film are feasibly explained.

Hostel is a horrific movie.

I mean, it was fun and it was fake which puts it miles above the films of Nazi war atrocities we all watched in World Affairs class in high school, but Hostel is a movie designed to push your buttons. There are no good guys in the movie, and while I didn't actively hate the protagonists, I don't think I was supposed to really like them. There's a fair amount of bigotry and betrayal, and of course there's the torture, which is the most meticulously composed violence I've ever seen. If you couldn't sit through Dead Alive, you can't sit through Hostel. This is the only place where you'll ever see the names of those movies side by side, but I'd say the gross-out factor is comparable.

I guess my point is that it's well made, but it's a well-made movie that exists only to make you feel stuff for 95 minutes. It's self-contained and won't provoke any serious discussions beyond "Could we maybe vacation in Greece instead?" On the other hand, it's opulent in its own way, and it's clear that writer/director Eli Roth understands his medium and how it works. I'm afraid that this movie won't get the praise it deserves because the audience that would really appreciate it is so small, which is why Quentin Tarantino's name being plastered all over the marketing campaign. People will go because they like QT, but he's the producer and it's not the sort of snappy actionfest we expect from him. Hostel is a brutal, gruelling movie, with little escapism. I wonder if cramming as much nudity as possible into the first half of the film wasn't a marketing strategy to prevent people from walking out.

Ellen and I liked it, but as I said, I'd be hesitant to see it again any time soon. If there was anything good about Hostel, it was the technical quality of the filmmaking. It's impressive as a visual experiment, but the story and characters do little to endear themselves to the audience. Paying $3 for my ticket probably helped, too. Would you enjoy it? My advice is to go with your gut instinct after you watch the trailer.
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