January 12, 2006

Film Review: Hostel

2 stars
Starring Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Jan Vlasák and Barbara Nedeljáková. Directed by Eli Roth. Released by Lions Gate. Rated R; 1:35.

Whether it’s intended or just inept, writer-director Eli Roth doesn’t bother to build an atmosphere of dread into the torture scenes of “Hostel.” In Roth’s second film after the equally clumsy “Cabin Fever,” holes are drilled in bodies, limbs are severed and ankles are sliced in a torture chamber in Eastern Europe. “Hostel” pretends to be a cathartic vessel for our fears about the dangers of international travel, when really all it is splatter porn.

The film doesn’t shirk on the promises of its genre, offering ample amounts of nudity and sex in its first half hour, as it follows two Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) who have ditched the pot and females in Amsterdam for the promise of even hotter and looser girls in Slovakia.

They hit paydirt. The hedonistic men immediately meet two exotic beauties, bathe naked with them in a spa and then later seal the deal in adjacent beds after a night of clubbing. Some have argued that the film is a morality tale, as Josh goes missing and ends up in a pay-to-torture chamber for the rich, as sort of a karmic payback for his chauvinistic behavior. But the movie is arbitrarily selective of which character gets it worst, and the vicious maiming of an innocent girl’s eye socket pretty much concludes that “Hostel” doesn’t carry a moral compass.

What’s left is a swiftly paced story of good ol’ American vengeance in which Paxton tries to punish the sadistic torturers through sadistic means, including claw hammers, scalpels and guns. The violence in “Hostel” is extreme, but it never seems dangerous. While “Hostel” doesn’t skimp on throat slitting and finger slicing, its neglect in lacing its money shots with tension makes it more of a special effects reel than a movie.

BY JAMIE PETERS
leo@leoweekly.com