Hostel - or, more specifically, writer/director Eli Roth - would like its audience to think that it is making a grand statement about Something. Really, it is a sort-of vanity project for its filmmaker, who utilizes his central premise for a lot of sexuality and then for a lot of violence. Foreigners, the film reasons, are ideally either the fair target for the proverbial "quests" of our pair of protagonists or they are diseased minds with a thrill for bloodlust. It isn't a very complicated point, and it's also obviously a narrow-minded one, even for a "torture porn" thriller that needn't be very complicated.

American college students and friends Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) have arrived in Amsterdam with Icelandic pal Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), but no sooner have they reveled in the sexual freedom of their current hostel than they meet Alexei (Lubomir Bukovy), who suggests they travel to Slovakia, where another hostel will fulfill their every dream. One train ride (on which they meet a strange businessman, played by Jan Vlasak, with a hand tremor) later, they have arrived and been greeted by the sight of more voluptuous women. Two of them (played by Barbara Nedeljakova and Jana Kaderabkova) bed the Americans, while Oli disappears into the night with a third.

For almost an hour, Roth treats the proceedings as comic in nature, and it's a strong start. The characters are ragingly chauvinistic, homophobic, and xenophobic, but one does sigh with slight relief that the screenplay treats those traits as belonging to the characters, rather than as an attitude held by the movie. It doesn't help that our entryway into the story is the characters, though, as they view all those whose paths they cross in this unknown land as untrustworthy and creepy. Of course, that self-fulfilled prophecy proves the phrase when the priorities of certain native Slovakians are revealed.

More specifically, they belong to a shadowy group of sadistic, torture-happy murderers who like to kidnap, then experiment on, their prey. The violence here is savage, including some severed Achilles' heels, a torched eyeball, various dismemberments, some action involving a sledgehammer, and two slit throats. The imprecision of the makeup effects dulls the impact of that violence a bit. Perhaps this viewer has a strong stomach for such carnage, but it didn't faze him. The problem is that all of this, to a point, seems also to be comic in nature - darkly so, of course, but the absurdity of the tone is undeniable.

Eventually it stops short of being a comedy, courtesy of an utterly sincere final ten minutes that confirms the fact that Roth's aim is unclear. If he is commenting, in a roundabout way or more directly, upon the nature of xenophobia, it is diluted by the uselessness of the violence. If he is intending to comment on the futility of violence, it is brought up short by the attempted social commentary. The performances are solid, especially from Hernandez (whose character eventually owns the spotlight) as Paxton grows more desperate to escape his situation. The whole of Hostel, though, is too disjointed and uncertain of its purpose to get much further than some shock value.

Film Information

Jay Hernandez (Paxton), Derek Richardson (Josh), Eythor Gudjonsson (Oli), Barbara Nedeljakova (Natalya), Jana Kaderabkova (Svetlana), Jan Vlasak (The Dutch Businessman), Lubomir Bukovy (Alexei).

Directed and written by Eli Roth.

Rated R (brutal torture/violence, sexual content, language, drug use).

94 minutes.

Released on January 6, 2006.

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