What I like about Hostel

*** Lots of spoilers ***.

1. I like how Hostel explores where the torture hobbyists draw the line between people they treat as subhuman victims and other people they treat as equals. Do they bring their hobbies home and kill or torture in their neighborhood? If the guy in the locker room got angry or aroused while getting suited up for the dungeon, would he torture a fellow hobbyist right there in the locker room instead, or a guard? In Hostel 2, the less excited buddy tries to back out of getting the tattoo. How far would the eager guy need to be pushed before he'd torture or kill his reluctant pal?

2. Porn, prostitution and torture porn. Critics threw around the phrase "torture porn" when talking about Hostel, as if viewers get off on it. Meanwhile it's a story exploring the morality of paying to screw or torture or kill somebody. It's about people who pay prostitutes (good guys who pay prostitutes? or do they deserve the torture later because they fornicated with prostitutes?) and bad guys who pay to torture and who definitely get off on it. In case you manage to forget the link between those ideas for a moment, there's even a guard watching porn in the dungeon hallway. At the start of the movie, one kid backs out of seeing a hooker that his buddy already paid for. In the dungeon there's a callback, one guy who seems on the verge of backing out of torture. Is it a lack of courage, or wavering morality? Does the torturer need to feel his victim is subhuman before he can go through with it? Does the john need to forget that his hooker is human before he can go through with that?

While we're watching this movie about people doing torture, and it may or may not make us sick, other people are watching the phenomenon of torture movies getting made and viewed by us, and *that* makes them sick. I was kind of leaping to the conclusion that everyone who enjoys this must get off on torture, but it's just plain old horror. Most people who enjoy scary movies don't seem to be sadists or masochists. I suppose this debate has been circulating since long before my dad told me to turn the channel when "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism" aired on a Saturday afternoon, circa 1983.

3. Traumatized victim becomes a traumatizer. At the start, you may wonder how people can stand to torture and kill anyone. Why do they do it? After it happens to our heroes and one of them is getting away, I kept yelling for him to kill the torturers, the guards, anyone at all involved. It transforms the hero and the viewer, if they started off thinking that you wouldn't want to kill anyone.

4. Very economical body count. Although we can assume lots of others are killed throughout the dungeon, we only follow three people from start to the end of the movie, spread out over 90 minutes, yet it doesn't drag. Plenty of slasher movies kill more than three just for an appetizer.

5. You know how "Deliverance" is supposed to be sort of a random attack, but it ends up seeming like a warning that hicks are gay rapists who hate city slickers? The Hostel movies have a subtext that Slovaks are creepy, kidnapping human traffickers who hate Americans and rich tourists. But it's Americans and other rich Euro tourists paying for it and making it possible.

6. Callbacks to Tarantino.
...A. Pulp Fiction is playing in the Hostel lobby.
...B. A guy standing up torturing a guy strapped to a chair reminds you of Reservoir Dogs. The ball-gag reminds you of Pulp Fiction.
...C. Victim escaping in car sees his enemies in front of him and runs them over.

1. Hard to believe the escaping hero coincidentally runs across (then over) three people who led him to get tortured, and then the wannabe-surgeon torturer, and has the opportunity to kill them all.
2. How many American can disappear from the same Hostel before it gets conspicuous?
3. If you pay some secret society to kill someone they captured, in their dungeon, how can you be confident they won't take video or keep other evidence and blackmail you? They don't mind kidnapping, human trafficking, abetting murder and torture, but they're too honorable to blackmail you? I guess they figure repeat customers are worth more than what they'd get from blackmail.


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