Yes, Hostel. I’m going there. Really.
No, this selection was in no way influenced by my high-pitched-squeal-inducing fangirl crush on Eli Roth.
I get where the hate and disdain come from. I do. At least among people who haven’t actually seen the movie, the category almost all of its detractors fall into. I was one of them once.
As a fifteen-year-old fantasy geek girl, not yet a horror initiate, the theatrical trailer campaign for Hostel disturbed me deeply. You can see why here:
If you’re completely unfamiliar with Hostel, here’s how it actually goes:
College guys backpacking in Europe decide to go off the beaten path and come across a suspiciously comfortable and attractive-woman-filled hostel, which turns out to be auctioning off its tourists to be tortured and killed by the highest bidder among its elite international clientele.
On paper, it sounds like a sleazy, exploitative concept, and the ad campaign seemingly did everything possible to encourage that impression.
Eventually, and with great trepidation, I ended up bartering watching Hostel with my husband in exchange for his company at a quilting convention.
The execution of the concept is artful and sophisticated. As Eli Roth movies do, Hostel starts out as if it’s supposed to be a different kind of movie entirely. It takes its time, gets to know its characters, makes you feel that they belong in a college comedy where everyone pairs up and lives happily ever after, not something like this.
Easily as scary as any of the torture scenes are the ones where the tourists who are still out of the loop are looking for their missing friends or, failing that, a way home. The non-English dialogue isn’t subtitled, and there’s the vague feeling of being talked about and laughed at without confirmation.
More even than bodily fears, Hostel taps into fears of being lost, out of your depth, and cut off from the familiar and trustworthy. It creates a complex, heavy sort of horror, which is far from fun but even farther from cheap.
This is not a movie experience to be entered into lightly, but if you’re feeling strong and looking for substance, consider giving the movie a chance.