Halloween Endurance Test: Hostel (2005)
I love Hostel. It’s as simple as that. Instead of jamming every scare tactic he’d ever seen before into the film, here director Eli Roth settles on a few. It works a whole lot better. Gone is the mind-numbing genre-jumping confusion of Cabin Fever‘s first thirty minutes.
The first stroke of genius is that none of the characters (main or otherwise) are appealing in any way. They’re all self-centered assholes. Even the more benign characters, like the stranded Asian tourist looking for her friend, have no redeeming qualities. She does nothing to help anyone; just waits around for her friend, until she too is picked off. This might be the most honest script Hollywood’s dealt with in ages.
It’s how Roth manipulates the audience to eventually identify with these assholes that impresses me. Nothing more than a cinematic version of the ‘bait and switch’ trick sure, but it works so well. Makes you wonder why more directors don’t adapt carny tools to effectively manipulate their audiences.
I guess this makes it the penultimate postmodern horror film: there are no heroes, only some characters who are more damnable than others.
It turns out my friends and co-workers were right: I really do love torture films a/k/a “torture porn.”
I don’t know how it ever came up originally, or how I became associated with it, but I’m now known to enjoy another horror sub genre. (Everyone already knows of my enjoyment of gore films. How could you not love them?)
I was actually at work one day (on time even!) when the irreplaceable Jordan asked me if I had seen Hostel yet.
I told him I had heard of it, but hadn’t bothered to watch it.
Jordan proceeded to give it the best advertisement it could possibly get:
‘I like horror movies, okay? But not torture movies.’
I decided at that moment that I had to see it. If it could make a confessed gorehound uncomfortable, then maybe something was going on in it.
I can only assume that it was its audience manipulation that unsettled Jordan. That and the fact that its characters are literally tortured on camera; with none of the cliched running away that always drags these movies out. Being unpredictable generally causes people to lose their shit.
(It should be noted that Hostel isn’t nearly as uncomfortably frightening as, let’s say, The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave. With I Spit on Your Grave getting the nod over Last House… ‘cuz at least Last House… occasionally eases its tension with the whole ‘piss your pants’ scene. That scene is almost as beloved as the immortal ‘turd staircase’ sequence from Friday the 13th, Part 4!)
What caused me to be weirded out by Jordan’s confession is that he figured I would be a fan of the film. I guess I come off that way.
My buddy John used to spend all his time at work watching Korean film trailers. He’d then track these films down using Netflix or at Burns Court. One film he was obsessed with seeing was Save the Green Planet. All he could talk about was that film.
In the trailer it looked like a office worker becomes convinced that his boss is an alien bent on destroying the Earth. Hence it becomes this worker’s mission to save the planet.
Instead of highlighting the worker’s (futile) hi-jinks, the film instead has the boss being tied up and tortured for an hour and a half. This wasn’t exactly what John wanted to see. I guess he forgot to take into account the Far East’s cultural love of bondage.
Imagine going into Hostel thinking it was a going to be a National Lampoon’s European Vacation type of film and you ‘ll get an idea of John’s reaction. Utter horror and disgust. So naturally he identified it with me!
I immediately received a call proclaiming that he had ‘just seen a film that had ‘Tim’ written all over it.’
John died before I could question him on my bewildering association with torture films, Jordan’s still alive, but doesn’t work at the store anymore, so he’s out too. Though I guess at this point I’d really have to congratulate them on reading me better than I read myself