Though Eli Roth's second feature, Hostel, is being promoted, somewhat deceptively, as a Quentin Tarantino production, the two share a fanboy's adoration of genre films and a knack for self-conscious exploitation. Roth's winningly goofy debut, Cabin Fever, paid unlikely homage to trashy '80s horror films like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp by sticking a bunch of horny kids in the woods and not skimping on the gratuitous nudity and gore. Roth could only get more ambitious from there, and with Hostel, he upgrades to the extreme cinema of Japanese splatter maestro Takashi Miike, specifically his cult favorites Audition and Ichi The Killer. But Roth gets the notes right while missing the music: He studiously replicates Miike's unblinking depiction of torture, but without much reflection or wit. It's merely unpleasant and more than a little dumb.
Much like Audition, Hostel could initially be mistaken for something other than a horror film, though Miike's austere portrait of a widower seeking companionship has been replaced by a lowbrow stoner comedy of the Eurotrip variety. Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson play two thrill-seeking American backpackers who, along with their crazy Scandinavian friend Eythor Gudjonsson, have sampled all the weed and whores that Amsterdam has to offer. When a stranger suggests that their every fratboy dream could be satisfied in an unheralded Slovakian village, they eagerly hop aboard the next train to Eastern Europe. When they finally arrive at the village hostel, the place delivers as advertised—willing nymphs, steamy spas, the works. But after Gudjonsson mysteriously disappears, Hernandez and Richardson discover that the place is a front for a far more insidious operation.
The idea that Americans would head off to Slovakia because they didn't find Amsterdam sufficiently debauched seems ripe for some satiric jabs about excessive Yankee appetites. Perhaps Roth intended the grisly result to be some form of punishment, just as the torture in Audition could be seen as a punishment for its hero's deceptive efforts to find a new bride, but most of Hostel is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. Once it does, the film breaks out the surgical tools and does battle with the ratings board, but following The Devil's Rejects, Wolf Creek, and the Saw movies, what could another trip to the grindhouse have to offer?