HOSTEL written and directed by Eli Roth, with Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson. A Maple Pictures release. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (January 6). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I've just congratulated director Eli Roth on making a fantastically chunky movie.
Sitting in a booth at Shanghai Cowgirl for his last interview before returning to L.A., the 30-something Roth looks a little worn around the edges.
"Chunky," he murmurs, and then grins. "Good adjective. There's a lot of chunks, a lot of blood, a lot of carnage. Hostel's a red-meat horror film."
Roth is the horror genre's most recent Cinderella story.
In 2003, he struggled to finance a little-known project about a group of kids in an isolated cabin where a flesh-eating disease is on the loose. When Cabin Fever screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003, it sparked a bidding war and ended up as one of the year's sleeper hits, providing a decent punch in the slowly sagging gut of the horror genre.
Naturally, this makes the pressure on Roth's second full-length release just a tad more intense than he might like. In Hostel, he bypasses the jugular and goes straight to the pit of his audience's stomach. It's a sinister slasher film that follows three backpackers in their search for pussy, pussy and more pussy, until they end up in a Slovakian town that offers far more than they expected.
"I wanted to make a smarter horror movie, something different that would still satisfy the gore hounds," he explains.
"You want people coming out of there going, 'Oh my god, that was so sick. I've never seen somebody do that.' But it's hard to do that - everyone's seen everything. And you can't just have gore for gore's sake."
Roth handles every frame with a sensitive yet unrelenting touch, contrasting the comfy warm edges of the backpacking culture and scenes of nauseating bloody goo, slowly edging out normality in favour of torment and paranoia.
In one scene, massive wire cutters move in on an exposed toe, but then the camera quickly cuts away. In another, instead of a splatter of blood we're treated to sadistic tools at their bloody, meaty work.
How does he know how much to show - or not show?
"You can't really know what's too much until you're editing and you see all the blood," Roth admits. "You just shoot everything and decide in the editing room how much to leave in.
"It's always best to let people's imagination build stuff up. It's tricky, because you can piss people off if they don't see enough."
The film works on a psychological level as well. While some recent filmmakers have opted to remove the safety of familiar surroundings, Roth goes one further by throwing his characters into another country, immersing them in an alien culture and a different language.
The audience isn't spared that sense of being a stranger either. Nine languages are spoken in the film, yet there are no subtitles.
"Americans have this false sense of security," says Roth carefully. "They think the army's going to save them. But there are parts of the world that are dangerous, where people don't care if you're American and don't care about your money.
"The characters think these girls are going to love them because they're American, and when they suddenly realize that they're being played - and just how far out of their element they are - it's very, very scary.
"At first they feel so in control and superior," says Roth, pausing to smile.
"But it all comes back to bite them in the ass."
HOSTEL (Eli Roth) Rating: NNN
Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson and an ebullient Eythor Gudjonsson play backpackers tripping around Europe looking to sample local booty who catch word of a small town in Slovakia where the ladies are fine and easy. All seems to go as promised until the backpackers start disappearing.
Director Roth (Cabin Fever) critiques the abrasive and intolerant attitudes of some travellers (mostly Americans) in the film's light and humorous beginning, but soon flips into sequences of nauseating violence and disorientation. This isn't for lightweight horror fans; there's some stomach-turning gore, with fleshy chunks and sinister motivations.
Roth's good at evoking stark urban environments and has an uncanny ability to pull back just before the gore becomes too obscene. There's also enough story to poke your brain a few times and render you uncomfortable - for a few minutes.