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Hostel (2005)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/23/2007

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/23/2007

There are many film critics and journalists (such as Chas. Balun) who have written about the cyclical nature of the popularity of horror films. Horror films will be popular for a few years, drop off in business, and then see a resurgence. Clearly, we are in the middle of a horror upswing (I'm speaking in terms of money made by the films and not the quality of the product.) It's also fairly easy to track the trends within horror films. There is a current notion of bringing back the brutal and no-nonsense films of the 70s and we've seen this in the Saw movies and The Hills Have Eyes remake. Hostel is another film which has taken the no-holds barred views of the 1970s and blended it with the global village ideas of the new millennium. But, does this combination work?

Hostel tells the story of two Americans, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), who are traveling through Europe with their Icelandic friend, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson). Paxton and Oli enjoy the liberal mood of the city, but Josh is more of the sensitive type and keeps talking about his ex-girlfriend. While partying in Amsterdam, the guys are told that Slovakia is the place to go for a good time. They learn of a hostel where beautiful girls and sex are plentiful. Being the horny young men that they are, the guys immediate take a train across the border. Once in Slovakia, Paxton, Josh, and Oli find that for once, the hype is accurate, as they check into the hostel and within hours are partying with hot women. Unfortunately, their drunken revelry keeps them from noticing that people around them are disappearing. Soon they find themselves involved in a truly horrific situation from which there appears to be no escape.

Hostel is an interesting film from writer/director Eli Roth. Roth's first film, Cabin Fever, garnered a lot of attention in the horror genre world and (from what I can gather cruising the net) has received mixed reviews from fans. (I've only seen the film once, but I remember not liking it at all.) As with Cabin Fever, Hostel deals with horny young people, but Roth takes this common-place idea out of the backwoods and moves it to a literally foreign locale. Hostel takes the age-old slasher film idea of "sex equals death" and takes it to a higher level, as Paxton, Josh, and Oli's lust for women takes them to a very dangerous place. Roth also does some juggling with the characterization in the film, as he presents us with three main characters, none of which are completely likable. From there, the characters come and go, live and die, and the audience questions their loyalty to the guys.

While Roth's writing has clearly matured, and the film is technically sound, he still has a difficult time telling a story. The move starts out very promisingly, and while there's not necessarily a great deal of suspense in the movie, there is tension, as the audience begins to realize that the guys are walking into a trap. But, things fall apart during the last third of the film. I'm not giving anything away by saying that there's basically one main character left during the finale...and he's either going to live or die. It's just that simple, and I for one wasn't emotionally invested enough in the characters to really care. There are some interesting action sequences during the last 30 minutes, but I felt very disconnected from them. In the audio commentaries on the disc, there's a lot of talk of artistic touches in the film, such as the colors and sounds changing as the outlook of the film becomes more bleak, but I would have rather seen more energy put into the story and characters.

So, the story's not that great, but Hostel is a kick-ass violent movie right? As far as I'm concerned, not really. Given the marketing, the hype, and some of the on-line comments that I'd read, I expected the film to be wall-to-wall gore. And given the fact that I was viewing the unrated disc, I fully expected to be grossed out. Unfortunately, I found Hostel to be quite tame. Yes, there are scenes of torture and violence, but save for a moment involving a certain crucial tendon, I didn't find the film to be gory or squirm-inducing. There's one thing for sure, nothing comes close to the tension of the "needle pit" in Saw II.

I came away from Hostel feeling very divided. Given the fact that I hated Cabin Fever, I hadn't expected much from Roth's sophomore effort. I was surprised to find that the film had an interesting premise and there were some nice twists along the way. However, the movie wasn't the gorefest that I'd anticipated and ultimately, I found it be somewhat dull. It's clear that Roth is becoming a better filmmaker and maybe his next movie will grab me in the same way that his first two films have impressed others.

Hostel is kidnapped and taken to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The transfer is 1080p HD AVC and the film is letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image looks surprisingly good, especially when compared to the disappointing Hostel Part II Blu-ray. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only trace amount of grains at times. The clarity of the image reveals a nice depth to the image and none of the issues with light and dark which haunted the sequel. The colors look very good here and the colorful houses of the village really jump out, creating a cheery atmosphere which is soon shattered by the darker scenes. Given the relatively low-budget nature of Hostel, the film looks very good here. The disc has a Dolby TrueHD audio track which averages 3.0 Mbps. The dialogue is clear and audible and the sound effects are fine. The track provides some nice stereo effects which are nicely detailed. During the club scenes, and the film's finale, the use of surround sound and subwoofer effects really come to life, adding an extra dimension to the effects of the torture moments.

The Hostel Blu-ray Disc has a nice assortment of extras. The disc contains 4, yes 4, audio commentaries. The first has writer/director Eli Roth, along with executive producers Quentin Tarantino, Boaz Yakin, and Scott Spiegel. The second offers Roth along with editor George Folsey, Jr., actors Barbara Nedeljakova & Eythor Gudjonsson, and Harry Knowles. The third commentary has Roth, producer Chris Briggs, and documentarian Gabriel Roth. And finally, Roth provides a solo commentary.

Hostel Dissected” is a 3-part, 53-minute total behind-the-scenes documentary which covers many aspects of the making of Hostel. Eli Roth’s brother Gabriel captures a great deal of on-set footage illustrating the shooting of the film. There is also glimpses into casting, special effects makeup, and the film’s world premiere. The problem with this featurette is that it’s too scattered about and not specific enough. We never get a firm idea from Roth as to where the idea came from or why he wanted to make the film. (Thankfully, this info comes through on the commentary.) The doc does do a good job of showing what it’s like to shoot in a foreign country. “Kill the Car!” is a multi-angle sequence exploring an action scene from the film.

These extras duplicate those found on the original DVD. This disc features several more bonuses. There are four featurettes. In "Music & Sound" (12 minutes), composer Nathan Barr discusses his craft, while Bob Beemer demonstrates the sound mix. With "Set Design" (5 minutes), production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone shows us his concept art for the sets and locations. And there is footage of set construction. "KNB EFX" (11 minutes) has Burman and Nicotero talk about their relationship with Roth, which is accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage of FX being applied. Oli eats a sheep's head in "An Icelandic Meal with Eythor Gudjonsson" (3 minutes) Is this real? This is much grosser than anything in the film. The disc carries 10 DELETED SCENES, which run about 19 minutes. These have text intros by Roth and are mostly dialogue scenes with no new information or gore. The famed Japanese director discusses his career, his style, and his attitudes towards filmmaking and violence in "Takashi Miike Interview" (10 minutes).
"Hostel Dismembered" (30 minutes) rectifies some of the problems with "Hostel Dissected", as Roth gives details on where the idea for the film came from and the themes in the movie. While including clips and behind-the-scenes footage, the bulk of the information comes from comments from Roth and cast. We get four Photo Galleries -- Behind the Scenes, On Set, Barbara Nedeljakova, Hostel Artwork. In "The Treatment" Radio Interview with Eli Roth (27 minutes), the director discusses many facets of the film. The "Director's Cut Ending" (7 minutes) is actually very interesting and intelligent, playing on a more psychological form of poetic justice. The "Director's Unrated Cut" appears to be the same unrated cut which was previously available on DVD. The only difference is a branching choice to watch the film with the director's cut ending.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long