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Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 02/26/2006
Hostel: Sounds Like Hostile... I Know, I Get It

Well, a good friend of mine got duped into wanting to watch Hostel thanks to Quentin Tarantino's name being attached to the picture, and I in turn got suckered into going with him with the temptation of sneaking some burgers and fries into the 10 p.m. showing. It was a good thing. Hostel isn't a great movie, but it's one of the most entertaining horror flicks I've seen in a while.

NOTE: The following review contains spoilers.


Hostel broke a lot of the typical rules of American horror movies, and that's why I liked it. First of all, the action takes place abroad, first in Holland then in Slovakia. As a veteran traveler, I'm admittedly biased, but I couldn't help enjoying the change of scenery. Next, for its small cast, the ratio of motleyness of the story's protagonists is surprising: there's Derek (a white kid), Jay (a Latino), and Eythor (an Icelandic dude). This sort hodge-podge of travelers is pretty dead-on as far as my European experience was concerned. So that's two bonus points and the film's barely getting going. Throw in some snappy dialogue, hookers, drugs, and hot loose women with Eastern European accents that want to kill you, and you've got my heart pumping.

The coup, though, is that the Hispanic kid, Jay, ends up being the "hero" of the story. I use the term "hero" loosely, because after everything that happens to him, he basically wigs out for an ending that has a satisfyingly slight darkness to it. I fully expected Derek, the introverted writer with a heart of gold (he refuses to have sex with a prostitute his buddies have rented for him), to end up being the film's hero. But instead it's his less inhibited best friend, who I frankly thought was a bit of an asshole at first. When both the Icelander and the Caucasian get knocked off, suddenly I realized I was watching a whole different kind of movie. Unlike most slashers, I couldn't be quite sure I knew what was going to happen next anymore.

Going with the minority character to lead is a rare gamble, and it reminded me of the hero of my favorite horror movie, Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead. I was also happy to see that Hostel's leading man doesn't get away from all the butchery without it costing him an arm and a leg... not literally, but almost. The good guy may have won in the end, but he doesn't make it out without a serious scratch or two, physical and psychological.

Lastly, I've always maintained that casual nudity will never seem natural in American cinema, but I take that back. Apparently, as long as those bare titties belong to foreign bodies in a foreign setting, it actually comes off without a hitch, as demonstrated in Hostel's "spa" scene. Suddenly I was thrust back to the nude beaches of Ibiza. *sigh* My first encounter with successful American cinéma vérité occurring in a slasher flick... who'da thunk it?

Unlike the scummy dormitories that inspired it, I think Hostel is a breath of fresh air for regular moviegoers. Hand over your 9 bucks with confidence.

-- Abel

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