Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hostel (2006)

It's a slight step up from Cabin Fever, at least, although you'd probably have to watch this to see how little that means. On the evidence of his two completed films, Eli Roth has some talent with a camera but has no intellectual heft to add to his films -- he's a mimic, pure and simple. He's the horror fanboy blown up large. Here he's explicitly aping the extremism of Japanese genre cinema (a la Takashi Miike, who gets a cred-confirming cameo here), but he steals scenes and ideas without putting his own stamp on them, probably because he has none. (When exec producer Quentin Tarantino visually quotes, say, Sergio Leone in Kill Bill, Vol. 2, it still manages to feel like a Tarantino film; when Roth quotes the opening scene from Suicide Club late in this film, it just feels like some guy showing off that he's seen this super awesome movie and like wow man this scene was soooooo cool.) Thus, the film he's crafted offers some visceral thrills for gorehounds but little else. I give Roth credit for replacing the irritating hick humor of Cabin with acrid black laughs (the "dos dedos, mis amigos" scene is almost worth the price of admission on its own -- you have to wonder why nobody else thought of it before). But there's only so far you can go with extreme content before it starts to look like a smoke-and-mirrors act. Escapism is fun and all, but it'd be nice if Roth had a fucking point. But he doesn't, so we twiddle our thumbs and wait for the next gruesome dispatching. All he had to do, really, was end on a freeze-frame during the closing bathroom scene like Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, and then a case could be made retroactively for the film being about man's innate savagery and the psychic toll of violence and all those other themes that high-minded horror fans (myself included) use to justify their enjoyment (?) of frankly nasty films. But Roth's not that canny or ambitious, so he ends up with just another meat movie. Not that I have anything against meat movies. Between this, Wolf Creek and The Devil's Rejects, the meat movie seems to be making a comeback, and I'm kinda glad. The hit-to-miss ratio of the mentioned films, though, just seems to prove something most horror fans already know: Generally, about two out of every three meat movies aren't very good.

Grade: C+


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