"Presented by" director Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction" shows on a TV), "Hostel" is the latest from director Eli Roth, whose "Cabin Fever" I wasn't too fond of. While I don't consider myself a horror fan, I am occasionally surprised by how much I like some pictures in the genre. Still, I thought Roth's first movie just had a few too many moments where the movie lost what tension it'd built up.
"Hostel" is quite a different beast from "Cabin Fever", as the movie certainly tries to push the envelope further and further as the flick goes on. The picture focuses on three pals - Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson, from "Dumb and Dumberer"), as well as their Icelandic buddy Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) - who are backpacking across Europe looking for one thing only - tail.
The movie opens with the trio checking out what Amsterdam has to offer as they head from one club to another, eventually looking for something more. A local recommends a hostel in Bratislava which he says has wall-to-wall women and essentially remains a 24/7 party. So, the boys board the train and end up in a creepy, almost seemingly deserted little town. Yet, they still push forward, and are especially drawn in by the hostel, whose staff seem largely made up of young women waiting to be the next contestant on Europe's Next Top Model.
Things start to seem a tad questionable when, the next morning, Oli appears to have vanished. The two stick around, hoping that their pal will turn up. Next thing they know, Josh is gone. Soon, Paxton heads to the police, only to find that they're not of much assistance. However, it's not long until he finds out where his friends went (read: were dragged) off to.
While most of the first half of "Hostel" plays an awful lot like "American Pie's European Vacation", it's an attempt (although not an entirely successful one, as it goes on longer than it should) to ramp up the suspense as the audience knows that something's going to happen. As Paxton eventually finds out, the hostel is an elaborate front to lure in unsuspecting tourists who are tortured by wealthy businessmen who pay thousands to do so. Paxton, with no one left to turn to, must fight his way out of the basement he's found himself in, but it proves to be a brutal journey.
The DVD offers the "unrated" edition of the movie, but the picture is only a tiny bit longer than the theatrical running time. If the theatrical release is anything close to this, I'm surprised that the picture actually got an R from the MPAA (although it isn't the most graphic horror film in recent years, movies that have been less intense than this have had lengthy fights to try to get an R.) Horror fans may appreciate the film's hard-R material, although the film seems to be more of a love it-or-hate it picture for many. Those who dislike it won't be thrilled to learn that there's already a sequel planned. That's no surprise, as this film cost $4m and made more than ten times that.
"Hostel" has a few scary moments, but a bit of a "less-is-more" approach and more momentum would have likely added more tension and feeling of dread than the in-your-face style the film goes with during its darkest moments. Roth also manages to get some eerie moments out of the locations, but the movie really doesn't show too much of a visual style. The performances are nothing too remarkable (although, to the credit of the actors, the characters are definitely one-dimensional), although Hernandez ("Crazy/beautiful") fares pretty well. The picture's final moments head in the way that I suppose the picture was going to, but the coincidences that occur seem rather ridiculous.
I didn't think "Hostel" lived up to the hype (the first half just doesn't work in the way it appears to be intended, for example, and the movie doesn't transition into the second half all that well), but it does have a few moments of chills, scares and creepiness. Horror fans who didn't see it theatrically may want to give it a try and may find it a better experience - I wasn't crazy about the movie, but didn't strongly dislike it, either.
VIDEO: "Hostel" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Video in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is generally quite good, as the image appears to offer the picture as intended. The lighter opening sequences are crisp and mostly well-defined, aside from a soft moment or two. The darker (visually and otherwise) second half also looks fine, as the picture's dimly-lit moments still look pretty clear and detailed.
Some slight edge enhancement was seen on a couple of occasions, but otherwise everything looked crisp and (maybe a little too) clear. Colors remained subdued, but the intentionally low-key color palette looked accurately presented here.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fine, if not too remarkable. Surrounds kick in at times to deliver some creepy ambience or sound effects, but this is otherwise a fairly front-heavy sound mix. Audio quality was fine, with clear sound effects, a full-sounding score and crisp, undistorted dialogue.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes no less than four full-length audio commentaries. The first one is from producers Quentin Tarantino, Scott Spiegel, Boaz Yakin and director Eli Roth, the second is from Roth, the third is from director Roth with producer Chris Briggs and finally, the fourth is from actors Barbara Nedeljakova and Eyethor Gudjonsson, editor George Folsey Jr., "Aint It Cool News" head Harry Knowles and director Roth.
Also included are a 26-minute/3-part "making of" and a multi-angle look at a car scene late in the movie. The alternate ending is available on its own.
New this time around are a series of additional extras on a second disc, starting with "Music and Sound", a 12-minute featurette visiting with the film's composer and sound designer, who chat about their contributions to the film. "Set Design" is a brief, 5-minute look at the construction and design of some of the film's sets. "KNB FX" is a look at the famed make-up/practical FX company who provided some of the graphic make-up and effects seen in the picture. "Hostel Dismembered" is a 30-minute "making of" featurette, which provides some interesting behind-the-scenes clips, but a fair amount of the information is repeated elsewhere.
“An Icelandic Meal with Eythor Gudjonsson” sits with the actor as he eats a lamb's head. The guy would be pretty successful on "Fear Factor" if that show was still around. Some will likely not be able to watch this without losing their lunch. 18 minutes of deleted scenes with text intros are offered. Director Eli Roth isn't seen, but is heard in a 25-minute radio interview about the film. Finally, we get photo galleries and an interview with famed director and "Hostel" star Takashi Mike.
Final Thoughts: I thought "Hostel" had some moments of effective tension and chills at times, especially during the start of the second half. However, I thought the performances were very average and the first half was lacked momentum and just wasn't very involving. Overall, I was mixed on the film, neither loving or hating it. The DVD presentation offers quite good audio/video quality and a lot of supplements. Horror fans definitely should give it a try as a rental.
The Film C+