Hostelrecommended viewing

Stupid Americans!
Eli Roth
Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jan Vlasák
The Setup: 
Horrible Americans’ horny urges lead them somewhere they really do not want to go.

So it had gotten to the point where people were writing me things like “WHY haven’t you watched Hostel yet?” and I figured, okay fine, it’s time. The reason I hadn’t watched it until now was that I had kind of believed all the “torture porn” hype, and sort of imagined the movie as 40 minutes of setup followed by 50 minutes of straight torture. Happily, it’s not, it’s filled out quite nicely with character and story, and is really quite a smart, clever and different little thing.

Okay so we start with credits as this guy whistles while he cleans up this nasty, grimy basement. We then join our three heroes, who have come to Amsterdam to get stoned and party! They are the handsome Paxton, played by the very good Jay Hernandez, Josh, this somewhat dorkier one, and Oli, this older non-American they hooked up with at some point in their travels. At first we have a lot of setup about what assholes these three, but particularly the Americans, are. First they get in a fight in a nightclub, and are dicks about getting thrown out. Josh gets a lot of guff that he’s a “fag,” and when they get thrown out of the club they yell that “it’s a fag fest anyway.” They go to a brothel, very nicely presented as a blue hallway with silhouettes of sexual activity on the doors [I like this kind of clever graphic stuff which cleverly suggests stuff without really showing it]. Josh is pressured into sex with a prostitute, but refuses. They get back to their hostel after curfew, and start yelling and making a huge ruckus, because they’re Americans and should be allowed to do anything they want. Locals in the vicinity throw bottles and yell “fucking Americans,” but finally some guy from their hostel lets them in.

His name is Alexi, and there are two other having sex right in the middle of his room. He tells the guys about this hostel in Slovakia that is jam-packed with beautiful women who just go crazy over Americans. You will notice that Josh, who was all shy and didn’t want to fool around, is all suddenly possessed to get laid with hot girls—or is at least pretending to be to impress his friends. Interestingly, one of their complaints about Amsterdam is that there are too many Americans, and one of the big draws of Slovakia is that they hear there are no Americans there.

So they go. On the train an older man comes and sits in their compartment, and soon begins eating a salad with his bare hands. He says he thinks that people have lost touch with what they eat. Paxton arrogantly goes on about how HE is a vegetarian. Then the older guy [we’ll call him the German, as they do. although he's Dutch] puts his hand on Josh’s leg and, due to all the ribbing Josh has gotten from his friends about being a “fag,” Josh freaks and says “Woah! Don’t fuckin’ touch me!” The German quickly leaves.

They arrive in this remote Slovakian town, while the dramatic score swells and lets us know that this is a meeting with fate. They find they will have to share their room with roommates—who turn out to be these two babes who say they’re off to the spa—and the guys should join. They do, and all of them end up at a club that night, where the girls give them each a drug. During this time Josh goes outside, only to be accosted by this band of children. He is saved by the German, who shows up again. Josh apologizes for freaking out earlier, catching himself as he puts HIS hand on the German’s leg. The three guys end up screwing the women that night, Josh’s problems with intimacy apparently resolved. Oh, except that the homo content continues as Paxton jumps on Josh at one point and pretends to butt-fuck him.

In the morning, Oli is gone. The hostel tells him that he checked out. They are freaked out, and eventually receive a message saying goodbye. There are also two Japanese women staying at the hostel, and one of them is missing as well. Paxton tells a story of when he was present at the drowning of a 5 year old girl, and is haunted that he could have done more to save her. Paxton decides that they should just forget about Oli and get on with their vacation.

That night they go out with the two women again, who give them both a drink. Josh stumbles back to the hostel, while Paxton accidentally ends up locked in a storeroom. Josh wakes up tied to a chair with a hood over his head. This guy comes in and uses a power drill to give him a few air holes. The guy cuts his Achilles heels. And it turns out the guy is—the German! We actually see very little gore in this scene—we see one short drilling, and one short shot of Josh’s split heels, but for the most part we are looking at Josh’s screaming face and the various tools of torture.

Paxton wakes and finally gets out of the room. He finds that the hostel has HIM checked out. In his room are two different women, who say they’re going to the spa—and he should join. Then more with the band of kids, more wandering around, etc. Around this time I was getting kind of bored.

Blah, blah, eventually he finds the two women, all de-glammed, and insists that they take him out to meet Josh, so they drive him to this remote, broken down factory. One of the women gestures him into a door. He says “You fucking bitch!” and she replies “I got a lot of money for you. That makes you MY bitch!”

Of course, Paxton ends up tied to a chair, with this other guy. They make him speak to prove that he’s American. The guy starts to torture him—REALLY getting off on it, too—but Paxton starts speaking German to him, which totally screws up his fantasy. So, they simply gag Paxton. He ends up losing two fingers, and through some various twists ends up escaping. After a lot of rigmarole, he ends up in a room with this guy who is going IN to torture someone! Turns out, in case you don’t know, that this whole place sets up tourists to be tortured by folks who pay a ton of money for the privilege. The scene with the guy who is super psyched to torture someone else is very chilling. Anyway, there’s more escape, then Paxton—remember his story about not saving the girl—goes back to save the other Japanese woman, leading to one of the grosser scenes in the movie. Then more long escape, and he ends up on a train with the German! Paxton cuts off the guy’s fingers and kills him—the end!

As I said, had completely bought into all the “torture porn” hysteria and really expected that this movie would be 40 minutes of setup and 50 minutes of straight torture, so perhaps I am cutting it more of a pass since it was so much more, but I don’t think so. It is very clever and well thought-out all the way through, with Roth exploiting almost all the emotional, ideological and narrative angles the situation presents. It’s interesting to read the wide range of responses this film evokes on the IMDb, with many people considering the first half to be “all sex” [when there is very little actual sex or nudity] and the second half to be “all torture” [etc] and “extreme gore,” when the gore is actually QUITE minimal. It all just speaks to how expertly Roth suggests all of these things without actually showing them.

Many people also say that they just couldn’t sympathize with the characters, and so couldn’t get into the rest of the movie, which seems a bit odd to me as it seems clear that the point of view of the movie is that these people are ASSHOLES. They are set up as the ultimate ignorant, arrogant Americans, and for the first hour we are widely invited to hate them and wish to see them receive a nasty comeuppance. I am kind of fascinated by this whole narrative phenomenon [also present in The Ruins and perhaps all the other “torture porn” movies I have thus far avoided], where the largely American audience is invited to HATE characters who are probably very much like themselves, and get off on seeing people like THEM be punished for being the assholes they are. I haven’t quite gotten my head around what’s happening there yet, but there it is on screen. I think a key into it lies in the fragment of the movie where our American characters disparage Amsterdam because there are too many Americans there, and want to go to Slovakia precisely because they are told there are so few Americans there. Something to do with American self-loathing, and it’s something I need to get more of a grasp on.

So what about all the homo stuff? I thought it was an interesting additional layer on the rest of the story, and not much more. I didn’t find it offensive, mostly because the majority of the content is about our characters’ homophobia, and how this is a part of what assholes they are. Josh acts out of his gay panic, and since our characters are being presented as such jerks, his extreme fear reflects what a jerk he is, not anything negative about homosexuality itself. I don’t think there’s any real suggestion that the German himself is gay, and while the bathroom scene at the end does mimic the kind of homosexual behavior that our Congressmen engage in, I think it’s more a reflection of that being the most sensible narrative solution [the need to find a private space in a public place], rather than a statement about Congressional behavior.

One other thing: there was a piece in The Onion where Eli Roth picked a few horror movies he liked, and one of them was Who Can Kill a Child? [which I actually watched because of that article] and it seems clear that the band of marauding children here, and some scenes in which a character finds himself unable to harm them, are lifted directly [in a good way] from that film. Just an interesting side note.

So anyway, yeah, quite good! It has a fully fleshed-out story, a lot of clever convolutions, and an interesting take on its characters, if not interesting characters themselves. If you’ve been holding off because you’ve heard it’s nothing but torture, you should check it out! It was quite a pleasant surprise to me—although I think I’m still going to wait a bit before diving into Part II.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! You might love it or hate it, but in either case definitely worth seeing.