I know. It’s a lot to ask if you didn’t like it the first time, and I get that. Believe me. Eli Roth is not my first choice for anything except a kickball team or fake blood expert, but really. You need to watch it again. It’s pretty good, and underneath its layer of blood and cliche, there’s something happening. And that something is a shockingly smart borderline morality play about the dangers of being a douchebag.
First, let’s talk about Eli Roth. He’s a horror nerd who grew up to get muscles, money, fame, and a starring role in a Tarantino movie. His whole life is a bizarre Axe Body Spray sponsored Make A Wish Foundation request. In interviews he has that incendiary quality that YouTube comments aspire to. Clearly he wants a controversy surrounding every film. But here’s the genius of Hostel: you know how Charlie Chaplin sort of bumbles around and trips and runs into things but all of it takes balletic precision? Eli Roth is that, but in reverse. In Hostel, Roth may have stumbled and stubbed his toe into an important discussion and indictment of masculinity, sexual tourism, entitlement, and American ignorance.
Quick plot stuff, like it matters, American boys are spending some post college time back packing through Europe (so already, they’re insufferable) and, in Amsterdam, do what Americans do, namely, giggle in the Red Light District, pick violent fights in bars, and smoke weed. Sigh. Perhaps the museums and Anthony Bourdain recommended dive bars were closed for renovations, but I doubt it. They wind up in a stranger’s room, he tells them about a Hostel in Slovakia where the women are beautiful and horny, they go, they die badly.
Now here’s how it all gets smart. Most horror movies have a punitive aspect, Jason kills the underaged drinkers, the premarital sexers, the in-the-woods-alone-topless walkers, Hostel punishes the douchiness the manliness. In Hostel’s world, the sins are sins of fedora. They are deceived when a stranger says “the girls hear your accent and they just go crazy,” and “you just take them.” These are the baked-in and dangerous lies of American masculinity. We are told as men we are entitled to women’s bodies because of who are and where we come from. And it’s beyond stupid. It’s sailing past the hitherto uncharted islands of stupid into the foggy horizons of the utterly moronic. Yes, these women want you. You! The American male who uses the phrase “sausage party” without irony and points at the display windows of brothels.
This kind of toxic idiocy and entitlement is, at best, how porn plots continuously fail to improve (honestly, if you need proof on that I have three words: big sausage pizza, and if you need proof of the historic nature of bad porn plots know that there are the vengeful ghosts of Neanderthal pornographers carving a pair of breasts and a slice of pizza into a Montana cave wall at this very moment), and, at worst, how Donald Trump’s bus tour got so “grabby.” Not quite worst of all, though, is that nobody seems to pay for it. Porn still makes money despite plots as thin as “my dick is in this pizza and you like both pizza and dick” and Trump is almost president.
But in Hostel, these macho dumb dumbs pay for it. The women they feel entitled to lure them into dungeons where the power dynamic is inverted. Sharply. Powerful rich men are now entitled to their bodies. And they do their Trumping around with chainsaws and actual fire. Best of all, American bodies are the most expensive, and the most popular.
And the main characters are just that: bodies. In the film’s 106 minutes, 9 minutes go by before the character’s get names. These sentient cans of Monster Energy Drink aren’t on screen for us to understand or relate to. They’re on screen for us to watch. They’re objects of observation. In terms of cultural “gaze,” they’re women. Their individuality is stripped away and we are supposed to watch and, to an extent, enjoy what happens to them.
They’re also idiots. Well, idiots in the way any American can be an international idiot. We just tend not to know anything. And it’s almost not our fault. Comedian Eddie Izzard once said in America “you have to flip through a fair bit of channels” to find any international news. The stranger who sells our American cousins on the Hostel reassures them they won’t have to compete with any local men. He tells them, “because of the war there are no guys.” The hostel is in Slovakia. And there hasn’t been an armed conflict in Slovakia since 1939. And I had to look that up to write this. And it took a while. What the hell kind of war takes away a country’s menfolk for sixty-seven years after the fact? But, to your average American, and to these backpacking horn dogs, the idea of Slovakia as a war torn hellscape makes sense.
The only survivor actually escapes by distracting his torturer by speaking German. German! You know, the language you’ve made fun of since you first heard about it. He denies his American-ness and speaks a language other than English. Both of these, in American culture, earn you an Uncle Sam size 11 shoe in the nuts, but in Hostel, they save your ass. That’s magic. That’s smart. That’s Eli Roth’s accidental and bumbling feminism. The horror movie. That familiar objectifier of women and punisher of female sexuality becomes new. Roth makes a new monster out of American ignorance, and makes it hungry for privilege.
If you’re a man, and your privilege is anything like mine, it can’t hurt to watch a movie where you follow a handful of guys who could’ve been your friends in high school learn a lesson about bodily autonomy, power, entitlement, and the repugnance of thinking you own anybody’s body but yours. And, if you’re not, maybe you should treat yourself to some catharsis. You deserve to watch some cat callers and roofie-enthusiasts get their kneecaps power-drilled. You’ve been through enough.
Watch Hostel again. Please.
It’s, like, really important, Bro.