Hostel, the new horror film directed by Eli Roth and "presented" (read flacked) by Roth's mentor/gray eminence Quentin Tarantino, is likely to do for Slovakia what Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat character did for Kazakhstan: provoke diplomatic outrage. Slovak men are portrayed as either Crayola-necked geeks or massive brutes, "wild and crazy guys" who say things like, "I am king of the swing" and "Chill out, man, you're on wacation". The women are gorgeous, double-dealing sluts, the children roam about in murderous Clockwork Orange-type gangs, and the city of "Bratislava" (the film was shot in Prague) looks like the Economic Miracle happened elsewhere and there's no right side of the tracks. Luckily for the Slovak tourist industry, Barbara Nedelkova, who plays double-dealing slut #1, Natalya, set the record straight in a pre-release interview. "It's not really that scary place. It's actually nice, beautiful and people are friendly, look normal, beautiful, not as scary." Writer-Director Roth, whose debut horror film, Cabin Fever, made enough money to renovate Slovakia, is the son of a Harvard psychoanalyst and a veteran of seven years of Hebrew school. Go figure.
Paxton (Jay Hernandez of Friday Night Lights) and Josh (Derek Richardson) are a couple of recent college graduates doing the Grand Tour to get laid, smoke legal weed in Amsterdam ("Do you vant to get stoned?"), and get laid. They meet Oli from Iceland, a drunken, sex-crazed, Eurofratboy, and the horny trio are directed to a youth hostel in Bratislava where their dreams will come true by a skinny, creepy guy with a dark-colored lesion-thingie on his face. On the train to Sin City, they are joined in their compartment by a thickset, middle aged, Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasak, known mostly in the Czech Republic as a Shakespearian actor), who gobbles a salad using his fingers and rhapsodizes about having a more intimate relationship with his food by forgoing utensils. See ya later in the "wacation", man!
The Bratislava hostel proves to be improbably luxurious, in contrast to the slummy rest of the city. Funny: I remember youth hostels as stinky, bug-infested dumps, not Club Meds. Oh well.
The guys soon meet Natalya (the aforementioned Barbara Nedeljakova) and Svetlana (Jana Kaderabkova), sexy Slovak sirens. Sssss! Oli goes missing, and that's as far as I'm going with the plot. Suffice it to say that the story gets gradually darker as the color progressively drains from the screen, except, that is, for the color red.
In making Hostel, Roth appears to have dipped into the same pot of road trip cliches as the 2004 comedy Eurotrip, which covered most of Europe, uncovered an abundance of boobs and butts, as does Hostel, and was also, coincidentally, shot in Prague. Roth lived in Iceland for a year and still keeps a horse there. He preempted a frigid response to Oli as a representative of Iceland's finest from the country's President by asking for an official pardon and making a formal apology to the Minister of Culture. Pardon granted, apology accepted, national reputation saved. Now we can all rest assured that Icelanders don't really say, "I'm so happy, I shave my balls."
Roth borrows (steals?) extensively from Quentin Tarantino, Silence of the Lambs, Marathon Man, and Asian horror movies. The use of picture-phones as enhancers of suspense is reminiscent of films such Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. There are effective references to Medieval times and the Holocaust.
The film's trailer claims, questionably, that it's based upon actual events. Sorry, but I can't elaborate without spoiling. There is sex, violence and gore to beat the oompah band, and the trashy, cliche'd elements are commingled with astute observations about Europeans and human nature.
The story is skillfully told, with enough gaps to keep the suspense going. Roth has written a tight and clever script, and the cinematography and music are first-rate. The director used a primarily Czech crew to lend authenticity to the film, which, all told, is highly entertaining and achieves its aims without pretension. Salad, anyone?
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