In the premiere edition of “Dan’s Picks,” I turn my all-seeing, Sauron-esque eye on “Hostel.” Detractors might initially dismiss “Hostel” as a cheesy “Saw” clone (it’s opening in January, usually a death sentence in terms of quality for mainstream movies), a morally reprehensible film for sickos or, to the elitist, a rip-off of Japanese horror filmmaker Takashi Miike, whose film “Audition” contains a similarly violent torture scene. Let’s just say it does things with piano wire that “The Watcher,” that serial killer movie with Keanu Reeves, totally should have.
I challenge these skeptics to gather at the pearls that emanate forth from the feet of Eli Roth, “Hostel”‘s 33-year-old writer/director. Aside from making 2003’s ridiculously awesome “Cabin Fever,” the best horror-comedy since Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2,” Roth’s varied background includes interning for Howard Stern, assisting David Lynch and even working on an online sex chat for Penthouse Magazine, chatting with men thinking he was a gorgeous model (a source that Roth credits as inspiration for his characters).
It’s easy to see this influence in a film like “Hostel.” The two main characters are total American bros backpacking through Amsterdam (whoo!!!). The first line of the film is, “We didn’t come to Amsterdam just to smoke pot,” and then the bros travel to a club to land some serious action with the ladies. Roth himself is from Boston, perhaps the “bro” capital of the world, and let’s face it: Who wouldn’t want to see bros get tortured?
As for the high-brow critics snidely accusing Roth of ripping off Miike, “Hostel” has the stamp of approval of Miike himself, who also appears in the film for a cameo sequence. If anything, Roth is a pioneer for artistic cultural exchange. True Miike fans will rejoice in the fact that more Americans are being exposed to the auteur because of a movie like “Hostel.”
As for the movie itself, “Hostel” is a true horror fan’s movie. It doesn’t jump right into the blood, guts and gore, but takes its time, painfully milking the suspense like a farmer with arthritis. When we finally do get the money shot, Roth delivers, and it’s a truly eye-popping sequence ... literally!
The track record proves itself. Peter Jackson, Tobe Hooper and “Hostel” executive producer Quentin Tarantino have all praised Roth as a filmmaker. If you’re stressing on how to convince your doubtful friend as to why “Hostel” is the best 90 minutes you’ll spend this month, just tell them that someday you’ll be studying for the bar, and they’ll be working on their thesis, but this is the stuff that you’re going to remember.