Of all the recent directors dabbling in the horror genre, Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) is one of the more interesting ones. Mainly because the movies he makes are not god-awful. Hostel is a seriously demented film, but at the same time, it is a surprisingly gruesome crowd-pleaser. Any movie that can get Japanese director Takashi Miike (Three Extremes, Gozu) certainly deserves some attention. The basic premise is that there is a place in Slovakia where people can pay to kill others. The victims come from a local youth hostel, where astoundingly attractive women lure horny foreign males to their unsuspecting doom. It's a great premise, but Roth takes his time in getting to the goods.

First, he spends nearly half the movie setting up the premise. Josh (Derek Richardson, Dumb & Dumberer) and Paxton (Jay Hernandez, Friday Night Lights, Ladder 49) are Americans backpacking through Europe. They hook up with Icelandic Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) and spend most of their time getting drunk, high, and trying to hook up with chicks. They learn about a hostel in Slovakia that not many people know about. There, the women supposedly are crazy for men and willing to do anything. The trio quickly meet Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakavoa, Doom, Shanghai Knights) and Svetlana (Jana Kaderabkova), two hot and oft-naked girls who quickly prove the guys right. Everything is fine until Oli disappears without a word. This takes up nearly half of Hostel, which is the films biggest weakness. Roth is trying to show how shallow these guys are. They are willing to go out of their way on vacation for some easy sex, and are the perfect prey for crimes like this. It works to a point, but also serves as an excuse for lots of T&A on screen. The guys wander around Amsterdam trying to get laid, and a series of naked women parade across the screen.

The mood quickly changes once Oli is gone. Soon, Josh disappears, leaving Paxton paranoid and completely alone. He does not speak the local language, and begins to seriously distrust Natalya and Svetlana. Roth moves quickly from this point, shifting the perspective to the victims. The torturers have their pick of all sorts of instruments while their victims are strapped to chairs, forced to beg. He refrains from showing most of the gore, allowing the imaginations of the viewers to take over. It is highly effective in a visceral manner. Just imaging the concept of somebody paying money to torture somebody is creepy. Roth really kicks into high gear once Paxton finds himself a captive. Unlike most other horror movie characters, Paxton has a working brain and uses it. Moreover, the entire experience profoundly changes him. He finds himself doing things that days ago he would never have considered. It shows that Roth is concerned about how the events affect the characters, and also makes for some extremely satisfying moments for the audience. Like Saw and Saw II, Hostel is not an easy movie to watch. But unlike the two movies, Hostel has is a sense of purpose and direction, instead of the arbitrary feeling dominant in the Saw films.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated R for brutal scenes of torture and violence, strong sexual content, language, and drug use.

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