Hostel (2005)
By: Devon B. on June 29, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Sony (Australia). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Italian DD 5.1. English, Italian Subtitles. 90 minutes
The Movie
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jan Vlasák
Screenplay: Eli Roth
Country: USA
Hostel is the second film by horror up and comer Eli Roth. After his entertaining but hugely overrated Cabin Fever, I approached Hostel with reservations. I was pleasantly surprised with the film, and found it to be a much more solid effort than another 'gore' movie out in theatres just prior, Wolf Creek.

Hostel starts not dissimilarly to An American Werewolf in Paris, with three backpacking friends (one who looks quite a bit older than the other two), touring Amsterdam. They're wandering around thinking they're funny, smoking pot and hitting brothels. When they hear about a hostel in Slovakia where they're guaranteed to get laid, the trio decide that's a place they must go. When they reach the hostel, it seems too good to be true, which, of course, it is.

The three leads are pretty much playing clichés as the film begins, but there is some character development as the movie progresses. Even the 'zany' character is pretty tame, but, unlike the sleazy 70s horror gems that influence Roth, the acting in this film is remarkably good. The lead villains are all well cast (though none have the impact of John Jarratt's excellent performance in the aforementioned Wolf Creek), suitably conveying a sense of menace and humanity. The character dynamics weren't enough to keep me engrossed, but once things start going wrong for the heroic trio Hostel gets interesting, and shows it's not going to be playing by standard movie rules. Because Hostel builds and builds, I also didn't find the set up annoying at all on the second viewing, when I knew where the film was heading.

Hostel features a fair bit of nudity, and some really good gore. This is not necessarily a fun splatter pic, as the gore is often in the form of torture set pieces. The brutality of the film will test the tolerance of not just the squeamish, but also seasoned genre fans. Admittedly, the film does take awhile to get to the grue, but there's some really nasty stuff courtesy of KNB FX. The FX work really well in this film, mostly because of the build up to gruesome scenes, and the tension is held during the bloody sequences. Another successful element, perhaps inspired by yet another werewolf backpacking movie, An American Werewolf in London, is that the performances are strong from those being wounded, adding credibility to the scenes while also humanising the gore.

Hostel was originally intended to have a far more sinister ending, and some of the set ups for that are still in the film. There were elements I really liked of the current ending, but I also felt it was somewhat anti-climactic. While the original ending may have had some negative ramifications in terms of people liking the movie, I think it would've made the film legendary. I also think a kind of hybrid ending could've been created, circumventing the problems with the original ending, but still giving the film a bit more edge.

I wouldn't call Hostel high art, but it is well crafted. The film is not entirely brain dead, but its plot isn't particularly complex. Harkening back to the exploitation days of yore, Hostel is an entertaining film.
Given the film's newness, Hostel's video transfer is, surprisingly, a bit of a letdown. The film is presented at 2.35:1 in a 16x9 enhanced print. The blue lighting in the brothel scene balloons a bit, but otherwise the colours are very good until they are intentionally faded. The image is clear and sharp for the most part, but there is grain, and clarity can be lost in the blacks. I didn't find the grain distracting, but I was sometimes distracted by the specks. There were quite a few of them for a new film. Perhaps it was just my disc, but there was also one point where blotches occurred across the whole screen, not just within the film's matte. At one point the image actually wobbled within the matte as well.
The audio is available in 5.1 English or Italian mixes. The English track is clear and strong, with dialogue remaining decipherable. Everything is well mixed, right down to the unsettling sounds of the creaking rubber. Saying the film is in English is a bit misleading, as a total of nine languages occur within the movie, but English is by far the dominant language. No subtitles are provided, but this suits the film well, as the average viewer will be just as clueless about what's being said as the lead characters.
Extra Features
This Hostel release is oddly lacking in deleted scenes, and the film's trailer for that matter, which is too bad because there is an additional alternate ending (tweaked from the original ending that I mentioned before) that I would've liked to see. There is mention of further DVD releases of Hostel in the extras, so I wouldn't be surprised if a two disc set is announced. Regardless, this disc still has plentiful extras.

There are three featurettes, which run for nearly an hour when played together. There is some cool and amusing stuff here, but there's also a lot that I didn't care about. We get to see more of Takashi Miike (who has a cameo in the film), a little more nudity, and a glimpse at the alternate ending. Multi angles of car breaking scene are included, along with some trailers for other movies, and FOUR commentaries. I've numbered the commentaries based on how they appear on the commentaries menu.

Track one features Roth, and the executive producers: Quentin Tarantino; genre perpetual hanger-on Scott Spiegel; and Boaz Yakin, perhaps best known in the horror community as the writer of Dirty Dancing 2. These are also the guys behind Raw Nerve, the company debuting with Hostel. As expected, this is a very good track, but with Tarantino on board, there IS a lot of excited yelling. All four men contributed or influenced Hostel, so it's good they all got a say. Film technique is interestingly discussed, as are their opinions of the alternate endings.

Track two features Roth with actress Barbara Nedeljakova, actor Eythor Gudjonsson, editor George Folsey, and website guy Harry Knowles. I like this new trend of people who do internet stuff getting to do commentaries, and would just like to say I'm available to comment on any film…except Dirty Dancing 2. This track is more like Roth interviewing the others, each one brought in for a segment of the film. Oddly Gudjonsson's comments are included well after his character's part of the film is over. I found Folsey the most interesting of those interrogated. The track ends with seven and a half minutes to go, but not to worry, because, there are two more tracks left!

Track three is Roth with producer Chris Briggs and Gabriel Roth, brother of Eli and the man behind the behind the scenes featurettes. This track is identified as a 'producers' track that is supposed to be more technical. It is technical, but there's also a lot of anecdotes and the guys end up distracted by things like fanny packs. I actually enjoyed this track the most of the FOUR.

The fourth track is Roth solo. He talks about the 'need' for FOUR commentaries, and promises to talk more about the period between Cabin Fever and Hostel. He does discuss this, but ends up doing a standard director track as well. The track is interesting, but I was done caring before it even started.

As is to be expected, with FOUR commentaries and an hour long making of, information does repeat a bit.
The Verdict
Hostel is better written, edited, directed, and acted than Cabin Fever, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. The disc is flawed, and I do think FOUR commentaries featuring the same guy is too many. I won't be revisiting the film for awhile after having listened to them all. I don't want to criticise a disc for having too much stuff, but this disc has too much of the SAME stuff, and maybe some of Roth's comments could've been worked into the behind the scenes as interview footage. Regardless, Hostel is a good juvenile movie for adults, so the DVD is recommended.
Movie Score
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