Hostel reminds me of Anchorman, the Will Ferrell film about newscasters from the late 70's. I know it's funny, I watch scenes and laugh out loud, I quote lines, yet, as a whole, I consider it a failure. In the same sense, Hostel should be one of the greatest horror films ever made. It's premise is horrifying enough - tourists to a small town in Slovakia are carefully manipulated, misled and, eventually, brutally tortured and murdered for sport by members of an elite "social club" run by Eastern European gangsters.
Hostel is spilling over with bad stereotypes of Eastern Europe. The towns are industrial looking, grey and falling apart. The inhabitants are either burly men in black leather with eyes slightly too far apart or perfect women made more of silicon than flesh. Yet despite every PC muscle in your body saying "people over there aren't like that, towns don't look like that - this could never really happen" there is a small part of you that thinks "oh yes it could".
Without a doubt, it's one of the most gruesome gore films since the mid 80s, though the gore is much more vicious and painful than anything found in the the quasi-comical Evil Dead films or Return of the Living Dead. If one wanted to make a convincing argument that graphic violence is more offensive than any kind of (non-violent) pornographic sex could ever be, one need look no further than the Director's Cut of this film.
That being said, it somehow doesn't pack the punch that it should. Maybe it's because the first half of the film feels so pointless and drawn out. The "horror" doesn't really start until 2/3rd of the way in. Maybe it's because everything is so stereotyped - I mean, it's kind of distracting at times. Maybe it's just too much - it's impossible to really take it seriously since it is so over the top.
Maybe it's because of the hype surrounding it. Billed as "inspired by true events" and plastered with Quentin Tarantino's name (as the far removed Executive producer or something), I suspect there is a part of me that simply wants to be contrary and refuse to admit when something lives up to it's hype. Sort of like refusing to admit that Justin Timberlake is actually kind of catchy despite the fact that he's a pre-fabricated rockstar who is more product than artist. If so, well, shame on me. I don't know.
I saw it in the theater when it debuted and remember being not only underwhelmed, but saying I didn't like it. I enjoyed it more the second time I saw it which was in a hotel room while on a work trip. I was then sent a free copy on DVD and enjoyed it even more the third time. So maybe it's not like Anchorman after all. I still think that movie is a failure. Though "do you want to come to my pants party" is hilarious.
Followed by a sequel that I actually enjoyed quite a bit.