Judging by the first forty minutes, “Hostel” doesn’t even resemble a horror picture. It’s more like a soft-core porn, eager to stroke a horny boy’s fantasy. We meet three backpackers in Europe: Americans Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), and Icelander Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson). They are so sex starved that the movie seems first like an odyssey for pussy. The first act pulls down your pants; it does not make you pull up a cover over your eyes.

Things start gets interesting when the three guys arrive in a Bratislava Hostel, where hot European babes are supposedly hospitable to American guys. Suddenly, fantasy molds into nightmare when one by one, the tourists disappear. Where to? One character hints they went to an “art show.” The word “art” is used as a euphemism of sort. So if your parent(s) complain(s) about your messy room, tell them it’s art. If you’re caught in a lie, tell them it’s your art of conversation. Anytime you’re trapped by logic or unable to explain yourself or unable to understand something, the probability is that it can be passed as art.

In “Hostel,” it isn’t surprising that the “art show” has blood as its choice of paint. It’s no masterpiece, but this is the part where the movie excels. Director Eli Roth nicely stages his scenes of gore and painful torture. But that’s all the movie has going for. I think the screenplay was not sufficiently worked on. I wish it had been more ambitious on its storytelling. It thinks its one big secret is enough of a story. The characters are barely developed, although the casting intrigued me. Derek Richardson grounds the film because he actually looks normal. And Latino actor Jay Hernandez plays a role that’s written with a blond actor in mind. There’s a telling scene when he says, “I’m not an American.” The moment had an unexpected nuance and I wished the film had taken such an interesting direction. Maybe I’m just asking for too much. The movie definitely had potential and it irks me that it didn’t strive to be better. The art of cliché? Art of mediocrity? Anyway you put it, “Hostel” is not something to dwell on.

Grade: C

Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderabkova, Jan Vlasák, Jennifer Lim, and Lubomir Silhavecky
Screenplay by
Eli Roth
Directed by
Eli Roth
Rated R for brutal scenes of torture and violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use