...will I be able to stop thinking about it?
I've avoided Eli Roth's 2005 grosser-than-gross movie Hostel for years, because I didn't think I'd like it that much. I cited movies like Wolf Creek and House of a Thousand Corpses, where gore is celebrated and victims are considered little more than incidental objects to be cut up, as examples of why I don't like these kinds of films. Horror, I argued, needs to be caught up in morality to truly be effective. Or, perhaps, to be excusable. Whatever the reason, I knew that even as a horror movie aficionado, I liked horror because I liked the idea of the hero triumphing over the monster--a storytelling trope as old as storytelling itself. Stories that celebrated the monster's triumph over the victim turned my stomach. From what I'd heard, Hostel did exactly that.
I decided to watch the movie today because I realized I'd been railing about it, but had never actually seen it, and I probably should give the flick a chance before I knocked it completely. Not expecting to be very impressed, I sat down in front of the screen with a stack of papers to grade, figuring I'd hide my nose in student journal responses if it got so gory I couldn't handle it.
Hostel was nothing like I expected. People who called it torture porn neglected to tell me that in a 95 minute film, there are 40 minutes of build up, where no violence of any kind is seen. Perhaps I'm desensitized, but I didn't find the torture scenes to be that bad. Sure, they were gross. They were visceral. They were icky. But...they didn't really bother me. Why? Because I didn't identify with the victims. Hostel is actually doing a far more sophisticated thing than I'd ever given it credit for.
No one told me that Hostel was actually a scathing indictment of American tourism, of American's ignorance of European culture, and of the American post-adolescent male obsession with and trivialization of sex. No one told me that the film plays on the idea of European hatred of America and on the Americans' own sense of self-importance and arrogance. In other words, I had no idea this film was actually saying something.
The three main characters of Hostel--twenty-somethings on a backpacking tour of Europe--spend the first 40 minutes of the film being the most hateful people imaginable. They're sexist. They're homophobic. They're arrogant. They are motivated entirely by the urge to fuck prostitutes and do drugs. They're vapid and stupid and horrid. When they start getting hacked up, part of you can't help but feel as if they deserve it.
Not that there's anything redeeming about the men doing the hacking up. The scenes in the movie that are the worst are when they actually speak. They're disconnect from the fact that what they're doing is utterly disturbing. No. It's not that they're disconnected. It's that they know what they're doing, and they don't seem to think it's in any way wrong. Not that that's unusual for a horror movie. There are tons and tons of movies featuring soulless killers who have no regrets. It's just that these guys aren't killers, and there's more than one of them. They're just regular rich guys, looking for a thrill.
Oddly enough, what the movie seems to do is nail to the wall the exact kind of behavior that critics claim it glorifies. It seems to be saying that we're a society of people who don't value human life--who look at people at something to be used for our own pleasure. The sick twist of the knife is the boys who are out trolling for prostitutes--women to be used as bodies, not humans to be interacted with, but living sex dolls--are used as kind of prostitutes themselves, their bodies sold to be used by others violently.
And all of this is really effing disturbing. But...at least it's...you know, got a point.
Where the movie really gets me though...where it veers off course and makes me feel really, really ooky, is the revenge scene at the very end. In the bathroom. I'd heard about this revenge scene. I'd been told it was very satisfying. I happen to be a fan of revenge flicks--Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave come to mind. So...I wasn't expecting it to really bug me. After all, the premise of a revenge flick is that it gives the viewer permission to root for violence against someone who deserves it.
Well...in some ways, all of the violence in the film thus far had seemed deserved. But...I don't know why the scene upsets me so much. For one thing, I guess, it's bothersome that it takes place away from the torture sight, after the final guy has made his escape. It seems to me that the right thing to do in a situation like that is to send the bad guy to authorities, not cut off his fingers and slit his throat. He should report him. ? It's also just the fact that the kind of violence done in this film is so horrific that a victim of it shouldn't want to inflict it on anyone, not even the people who inflicted it on him.
In I Spit on Your Grave, the revenge is merciful compared to the impossibly long and vicious rape the main character has sustained. In Last House on the Left, the people taking revenge are parents. What person wouldn't go a little crazy on the people who brutally murdered your daughter for no fucking reason? Both acts of revenge condemned the original act.
In Hostel, for some reason, I get the impression that the revenge condoned the torture. It made it okay. It made it...seem like the proper response to the situation. But the situation was so fucked up that...more violence made it cheaper. Tawdry.
Understand. The tendon slash? No big. The eyeball snip? Awful, but I'm not gonna lose sleep. But the revenge? God. I still keep shivering whenever I think about it.
I'm posting this because I desperately want to talk to someone about this, but I don't seem to have people to talk about horror with anymore. Not in the kind of depth I'd like to discuss it. Maybe no one reads this, or if they try, they don't get this far, but it's easier to get it out, I guess. And if the movie made me feel these kinds of complicated, confusing feelings, I think it deserves to be categorized as something far less derivative than "torture porn."