Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hostel (2005)

**This review contains spoilers**

Backpacking through Europe, three friends are persuaded by Alexei (Lubomir Bukovy), a local, to go to a town in Slovakia for the best selection of promiscuous young women at a small hostel. The new friend, Oli (Eypor Guojonsson) from Iceland teams up with Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), the two life-long friends from America, for a wild vacation including drugs, partying, and random hook-ups.

Josh, still trying to get over the recent split with his girlfriend, is pushed by Paxton to have a good time and loosen up, as both guys pair up with two local women named Svetlana (Jane Kaderabkova) and Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova). After a while, Oli disappears, worrying an already suspicious Josh. On the flip-side, Paxton is more concerned with getting the most out of Svetlana and Natalya before returning to America and real life, so Josh agrees to forget about Oli.

But Paxton pressures Sveltana to take him to an “art museum” to find Josh and Oli, after Josh uncharacteristically disappears without saying a word, or leaving a note at the hostel. Svetlana lures Paxton into the art museum, where he learns the truth: the art museum is actually a factory, where rich people from all over the world pay money to a secret organization, so they can torture and kill innocent kidnapped victims. Svetlana and Natalya work for the secret organization, as two women, who seduce and drug their unsuspecting male victims for a hefty finder’s fee. Svetlana and Natalya are responsible for Oli’s death, and Josh’s death at the hands of a Dutch Businessman (Jan Vlasak), who engaged the trio in an awkward encounter on the train to Slovakia. Enraged at the sight of Josh’s mangled corpse, and the sadistic Dutch Businessman, who continues to carve out Josh’s chest in front of him, Paxton tries to attack Svetlana, but two goons grab him for the next client awaiting to torture and kill…..

I guess you can give the nod to Jay Hernandez for the best performance in Hostel. Not a clear cut choice, but everyone else either disappears for a significant amount of time, certain characters are limited to here and there appearances, and Josh and Oli don’t make it to the end. Although, if I had to give an award for runner up, it would go to Jan Vlasak. He’s so creepy and malicious, as The Dutch Businessman. Just watching him eat the deli meat with his hands (because The Dutch Businessman prefers to “use his hands”) on the train is enough to make your skin crawl, and touching Josh on his inner thigh to gauge his fear is another good example. Can’t say too much about Kaderabkova and Nedeljakova. They’re believable as the ditzy European women, who are looking for a good time, and that’s about it.

The gang of young hooligans, who terrorize anyone coming into their territory are good for a few laughs during their brief appearances. They savagely beat, steal from, or torment anyone (mainly American tourists), who refuse to pay the tolls, which include money, candy, or bubble gum for passage.

So why is Hostel so scary? Lots of blood and gore, but no real jump scares, or genuinely spooky atmospherics. Well, I guess you could count the dank torture rooms at the factory. Anyway, Hostel is scary, because of the death trap the main characters unknowingly walk into. Think about it. Young American males, and another older and immature man, who behaves like a frat boy, are in Europe with the hopes of having sex with a bunch of young, unsuspecting, and attractive European women. Blinded by their horniness (again, mainly Oli and Paxton), the men are set up, and two members of  the trio lose their lives.

It sounds like the alpha male fantasy: go to Amsterdam (using Amsterdam as an example, and the story actually starts out there), get wasted, do a bunch of drugs, and have a series of random one-night stands with willing local women, or prostitutes. That’s why Hostel is scary, because when you stop and think about it, there’s some realism behind the motivations of the main characters, and you CAN make connections between the mindsets of guys like Paxton and other American males, who think the same way. Throw in the underground organization with customers, who pay to kill and torture people, the gruesome deaths of Oli and Josh, and you might think twice about going to Europe for a wild ride.

You can also throw in the real life dynamic of a friend (Paxton) pushing another friend, who’s shy, uptight, and nerdy (Josh wears a fanny pack in the beginning) to go out, and break out of his shell. Unbeknownst to Paxton and Oli, Josh actually turns down a prostitute at a brothel, by walking away from her after she removed her bra. Long story short, Josh freaked out at the thought of having sex with her. Josh sort of had his feel good moment of bursting out of the shell with Svetlana later on, but it’s a short-lived moment, because Josh is drugged by Svetlana and tortured to death by The Dutch Businessman.  

Hostel starts out as this harmless story about three guys, who are looking for women, alcohol, and drugs on vacation. Then, everything slowly evolves into Paxton’s deadly fight for survival, while trying to rescue another victim (the woman at the hostel, who lost her friend with Oli, and Paxton returns to rescue her, and cut off her severely damaged eyeball, after a “customer” tortured her).

Hostel will give horror fans everything they ask for, because Eli Roth (the writer and director) doesn’t hold anything back, when it comes to an overflow of blood, gore, nasty torture/death scenes, and just the right amount of nudity (mainly in the beginning). Hostel is capped off with an entertaining suspenseful finale, while Paxton gets  his revenge on The Dutch Businessman at the train station by cutting off his fingers on one hand, and slitting his throat. And Paxton uses a car to get revenge on Svetlana, Natalya, and Alexei  by running them over, killing the three people, who played a part in the deaths of his friends (well, technically, Svetlana was still alive after Paxton hit her with the car the first time, and two associates from the factory actually killed Svetlana by running her over for a second time).

Strange, because the ending I mentioned above wasn’t the original ending (regarding The Dutch Businessman). The original and fixed ending is on the Director’s Cut DVD or Blu-Ray. In the original ending, Paxton kidnaps The Dutch Businessman's daughter at the train station. Paxton doesn’t kill The Dutch Businessman. Instead, he stands in the middle of the train station holding his daughter’s teddy bear, screaming her name, as Paxton rides away with her on another train. It’s fixed, because on Roth’s original ending in his script before he actually filmed it, Paxton murders The Dutch Businessman’s Daughter at the train station, and he flees the scene afterwards. So Roth changed the ending of Paxton murdering the girl to kidnapping her, because murder was too much. After a lukewarm reception for the finished product from the studio and other producers, Roth decided Paxton kidnapping the little girl was not enough, so he changed the original ending. There was a feeling the audience wanted blood and a gruesome death for The Dutch Businessman, because he murdered Paxton’s best friend. On top of that, every evildoer in Hostel suffers a brutal death, so The Dutch Businessman receiving a free pass would’ve disrupted the continuity 

So in the end, Roth came up with the ending of Paxton murdering The Dutch Businessman and escaping (listen to the DVD or Blu-Ray commentary, if you want to actually hear Roth and Tarantino, who is also a producer for Hostel, talk about this), because it was more subtle. Plus, the original ending created too much sympathy for The Dutch Businessman. A wise choice by Roth, because when you look at and compare both endings, Roth’s original ending makes no sense at all.

Rating: 8/10

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