‘Hostel’ – Eli Roth’s Grisly Masterclass in Suspense and Dread

Hostel is by far one of my favorite horror films of all time. I have watched this film countless times and each time has been as fresh and exciting as the last. My blog today is going to be about what I specifically liked about this film. First of all one of the main things that comes to mind is the script. At first glance you might get the impression that the film is basically about three horny college guys backpacking across Europe in search of drugs and sex who are drawn into the nightmarish world of a society that provides victims for people who want to kill someone. Then when you look a little deeper you begin to see all the little things that make a difference. For instance, Josh and Paxton are from America and have probably never been outside of the United States. It is easy to see that they still have that ‘invincibility’ factor that a lot of young people seem to have. ‘I am young and I am strong and I am American. Nothing is going to happen to me’. What these guys don’t realize is that they could have left at any time but instead let their libidos’ lead them and not their brains.

Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed was the scene involving Oli’s death. The only thing you see is his decapitated head on the work table and his headless body on the floor in the background, still handcuffed to the chair. You know in what way he was murdered; but you don’t know how it was achieved. That, in itself, added to the fact that he is a likable character to begin with, makes his death all the more horrifying.

Also, I though it was genius of Eli Roth to use the great Japanese director Takashi Miike in a brief encounter with Paxton to emphasis the coldness of the men (and women as Hostel: Part II reveals) who pay top dollar in order to kill another human being. Miike tells Paxton ‘You could spend all your money in there’ as if he were describing a department store or hardware store and not a human slaughterhouse.

Finally the music was another strong point in the film. This is true especially in the final third of the film when Paxton is on the run from the organization and is fleeing for his life. Nathan Barrs’ soundtrack matches Paxton’s desperation and utter fear step by step all the way to the final moments of the film.

With his 2005 breakthrough ‘Hostel’, director Eli Roth fused exploitation excess with artful tension, crafting a harrowing descent into evil that functioned as both visceral horror and provocative commentary. When carefree American backpackers become prey in a business catering to rich clients who pay to torture and kill, the horrors of humanity’s dark impulses are brutally exposed.

Frat boys Paxton and Josh cross paths with a Slovakian who lures them to an isolated hostel filled with alluring women. But the fantasy sours when Josh goes missing, and Paxton discovers the building is a front for providing victims to international bidders with murderous proclivities. What follows is grueling brutality as the friends try escaping their wealthy captors.

While decried as ‘torture porn’, Roth’s script has depth beneath the carnage. The clueless leads’ ugly American entitlement makes their reckoning more resonant. And the cold sadism of the banal businessmen taps into our fears of evil lurking behind manicured facades.

The prolonged suspense also bolsters the visceral shocks. Roth expertly tightens the vise, from dark omens to passive-aggressive hostility from the hostel denizens. By the time teeth meet tendons, dread pervades each frame. We’re invested in the victims’ hellish plight.

For better or worse, ‘Hostel’ left an indelible mark on 00s horror. But more than just provoking outrage, it announced Roth as a bold new voice brazenly confronting horror’s darkest recesses.

Hostel has been accused of being one of the films that started the ‘torture porn’ movement that is prevalent in films such as Saw and Captivity. Why? Is it because it shows scenes of people being killed in violent ways by depraved people? What about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre? That movie depicted people being bashed in the head and shoved onto meat hooks by equally depraved people. Why did no one accuse that film of being torture porn? I love TCM, don’t get me wrong. I just think that the accusations toward Hostel are shaky at best.

So, those are my reason as to why I love Hostel and feel that it will one day be considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. Remember, John Carpenters’ The Thing was ridiculed when it first appeared in 1982 and it is now considered a classic.