Hostel marks Eli Roth’s second feature film directorial effort, with Cabin Fever being his first. Roth amped up the gore for his sophomore outing. Following in the footsteps of films like Saw, Hostel is an earlier installment in the gratuitous torture sub-genre. The flick ups the ante by being even more reprehensible and more violent than the director’s previous picture. And if that sounds like a compliment, it’s actually not.
The flick follows three (total bro) tourists as they are lured to a Slovakian hostel with the promise of sexually generous women who aim to please. Once they arrive, the bros learn that everything is not as it seems. They soon discover they are being targeted by an organization that gives patrons the opportunity to maim and kill for thrills. Yikes.
In case you couldn’t tell from the plot crunch above, where writer/director Eli Roth goes horribly wrong is with his core cast of characters and his piss poor attempts at scripting dialogue. Jay Hernandez stars as the film’s lead, Paxton, with Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson appearing as Paxton’s bros. The problem with the trio at the center of the film is that none of the three are at all relatable. It could be argued that this is because they’re being set up as cannon fodder but that’s not an excuse for scripting underdeveloped and frequently homophobic, overtly sexist characters.
The film is full of offensive banter amongst the three leads. At the time of the flick’s release, it read as insensitive and it certainly hasn’t gotten any better in the fifteen years since it’s theatrical debut. Lines like, “we can’t rail her if she’s in a coma” stand out as possibly even more upsetting than they were upon the film’s premiere in 2005. After a rewatch, I’m left wondering if Paxton making that proclamation about the young woman being in a coma was supposed to be a good thing? Like, he’s a hero because he won’t have an orgy with a near comatose female? If that’s Roth’s standard for what makes a relatable and well meaning character, color me mortified.
Another key grievance is that the flick seems to have been made with satisfying the male gaze as an almost singular priority. There is an unfathomable amount of female nudity. There are young women parading around in nothing throughout the picture and it rarely, if ever serves to advance the storyline. I’m all for a little nakedness in a horror picture but it should serve some purpose, aside from titillating the male libido. In Hostel, it’s clear that the nude scenes are intended as nothing more than window dressing and they come across as exploitative and entirely unnecessary.
These concerns I’ve called out above aren’t, however, exclusive to Hostel. Roth packed Cabin Fever full of gay jokes and sent an anti feminist message with the overtly sadistic female torture scenes in Hostel Part II. Not to mention vilifying and over simplifying the female characters in Knock Knock and portraying the male lead as a helpless and innocent man who fell victim to naughty female temptresses.
Eli Roth had the opportunity to tell a story about the sick extremes to which humankind will go in search of the next great rush but he squandered that potential and any remnant of subtext is overshadowed by gratuitous nude scenes and dick jokes. My hope is that with future filmic efforts, Roth uses his platform to present his audience with relatable, three-dimensional characters that have more to say than I like jubblies and that’s so gay, bro.