Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Women in Horror: Hostel

Paxton and Josh are college students backpacking through Europe looking for drugs, women, and good times. Oli, an goofy Icelandic drifter, joins their crew along the way. They pause in Amsterdam for prostitutes and pot, but are locked out of their hostel after curfew. Alexi gives them a place to stay and directs them to a hostel in Slovakia filled with desperate women. Slovakia seems a bit weird, but the promise of beautiful women turns out to be true. Everyone has fun until the next day Oli and few other hostel residents are unexpectedly gone. Paxton and Josh try to still have a good time because Oli was really a stranger. Then Josh disappears as well, leaving Paxton to run around frantically trying to find them. Then he ends up just like his friends: in the clutches of Elite Hunting, an organization where the rich kill people for ungodly sums of money.

Hostel has an interesting concept: a secret Elite Hunting organization has members who pay large sums of money to kill tourists in the manner of their choosing in Eastern Europe. I enjoy the second half of the film where Paxton has to find his way out of the murder facility. The mood is very tense and suspenseful, which is pretty rare in the torture porn genre. The torture scenes are well done where not everything is in your face. The blood and gore flow freely, but Eli Roth knows when to use extreme closeups and when to leave it to the imagination. Too many other films just show everything, but it frankly gets boring after a while. Hostel is also the first film to be dubbed torture porn and one of the first in the resurgence of ultra gory films in the 2000s. These are really the only positives about Hostel.

While the audience is supposed to sympathize with the American tourists, Paxton and Josh are the two of the most obnoxious and insufferable douchebags ever to grace the screen. They go through Europe chasing drugs and sex without regard to anything else. They complain about people not speaking English and mock each other for acting like anything other than the most masculine of men. The audience is supposed to identify with and root for them, but I have trouble even remotely liking them. When he is disguised and trying to escape the Elite Hunting facility, Paxton gets a glimpse of what he and Josh could have been in about 15 or 20 years. He meets a brash, ubermasculine American client who has done all the whoring and drugs there are until it's just boring to him. Elite Hunting is a way for him to feel alive and virile again. Paxton is on the road to turn into this man if he can afford Elite Hunting's rates. Why should the audience sympathize with someone who would eventually be on the other side? By the time the carnage starts, they have barely enough humanizing characteristics that I don't really want to see them die. Their portrayal may be based on the assumption that the viewers would be more like them: male, 18-25, and hypermasculine bros. It could be argued that it's a commentary on the typically American tourist attitude, but the ending of the film and the two dimensional portrayals of the foreign characters seem to be supporting that xenophobic mentality rather than dispelling it.

Hostel is a misogynistic film, but not for the reasons you might think. The first half of the film is a blur of breasts and sex that frankly drags on for too long. Breasts and sex on their own are not misogynistic in and of themselves, but the fact that no female characters have any sort of dimension does. All women in the film fall into these categories: sexual objects, evil temptresses, and damsels in distress. These characters are flatly good, evil, or just sexy. None of them really have their own opinions or will, but are just a cog in the machine of the sex industry or the murder for pay industry. The prostitutes at the beginning of the film are only there because of their ability to titillate the audience and the male leads. They barely even speak. There's one line comparing the sex industry with paying to torture and kill people, but it's another message only paid lip service with no real support. Natalya and Svetlana are the exotic and beautiful women who turn out to be the evil temptresses who lure and drug Paxton and Josh to their deaths. They are simply and flatly evil and want to earn money, like evil prostitutes who use their bodies and looks to lure hapless tourists. Of course they aren't evil enough to have any real authority in Elite Hunting, which is exclusively used and run by men. The last woman is Kana, a Japanese woman who is midtorture when Paxton saves her. She ends up throwing herself in front of a train after seeing her ruined eye in her reflection. It seems the character only exists for Paxton to look like less of a douchebag before dying and providing a distraction for Paxton to evade the Elite Hunting people. It's also pretty offensive that she seems to kill herself over her ruined looks.

No one in the film really fares well in either the way they are portrayed or their fate in the film. While I like parts of it and I think it's a very influential film in the horror genre, Hostel simply isn't constructed well and wants you to think that it's against xenophobia and misogyny when it ends up affirming these ideas throughout the course of the film.

My rating: 5/10 fishmuffins

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