People all over Europe probably know an “ugly American” when they see one. The fact that some of our dim-witted, college-age nationals engage in drunken, post-adolescent chaos while abroad is no secret, and these ruffians are frighteningly easy to spot. Seeing this behavior firsthand, some of our comrades across the Atlantic probably get a little resentful, a little angry and, who knows, maybe a little violent.
Splatter-happy horror maven Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever”), however, seems to have the most malevolent plans of all for our overly obnoxious countrymen. Unfortunately for us, they mostly involve strapping the young lads to metal chairs and torturing them for hours in disgustingly clever ways.
It isn’t pretty. Unless, of course, you’re into that kind of thing.
It all starts promisingly enough. Recent college grads Paxton (Jay Hernandez, “Friday Night Lights”) and Josh, along with newfound Icelandic pal Oli (newcomers Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson) are on a tour of Europe that plays like a frat boy’s wet dream – downing mixed drinks, pissing off the locals and, most importantly, trying to sleep with hot European babes. When a marginally shady wanderer recounts a legendary hostel in Eastern Europe loaded with beautiful, loose women, the trio is hooked immediately and their sexual adventure begins.
Reaching their destination in an economically depressed Slovakian town, our friends soon find, to their glee, that the legends are true: the hostel is inviting; the women are horny; and everything is perfect – a little too perfect, perhaps?
Sure enough, things start to go awry when our hapless hornballs start disappearing one by one from the hostel. When they reappear, it’s in some kind of abandoned warehouse/dungeon, surrounded by a variety of frightening torture instruments and psychotic guys in surgical masks who know how to operate them. Our heroes, it seems, have becomes victims of the burgeoning pay-to-kill industry, whereby sufficiently wealthy sadists get the opportunity to murder someone in the horrific manner of their choosing.
So after about 45 minutes of flashy nudity and drunkenness, we are treated to the real meat of the film: human meat, that is. Besides devising ways to torture people with power drills, scalpels and blow torches, Roth seems to take special delight in throwing around more body parts than a cannibalistic butcher shop. While the shock value is clearly evident, the gratuitous violence delivers few actual scares or surprises. When the suspense finally does come, it occurs outside the torture chambers, proving yet again that mere violence is not enough to produce an effective thriller.
As a film, “Hostel” feels like a few clever concepts poorly stitched together into an unsatisfying movie. Roth seeks to posit some intriguing ideas about cultural intolerance and humans’ capacity for violence, but he fails to form them into a compelling film. Although “Hostel” has its moments of pure popcorn entertainment, its overall mediocrity places it in a throwaway category we’ve come to know all too well: the highly gory, highly un-frightful frightfest.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
At the Showcase and Quality 16