Blu-ray
Wait for US Edition
2.5 stars
Overall Grade
2.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
2.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Wait for US Edition

Hostel (UK Import)

Street Date:
October 16th, 2006
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
August 21st, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2005
Studio:
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Length:
90 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United Kingdom

Editor's Notes

This is a review of the UK Blu-ray release of 'Hostel.' While this title has not yet been released in the US, Sony recently announced plans for a domestic Blu-ray edition, which is due to hit store shelves on Oct 23, 2007.

Note that this Blu-ray import is region-free, and will play on any Blu-ray player worldwide.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

In October 2003, the remake of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' turned into the surprise sleeper hit of the season, earning a tidy $86 million domestic gross on a budget of less than $9 million. But more than just another example of how a well-made (if derivative) horror flick can still hit it big if the timing is right, 'Chainsaw' redux now carries -- unfairly or not -- the distinction of having unleashed the era of "torture porn" upon the genre. Thumbing its noise at the slicker, more humorous milieu of the 'Scream' flicks, 'Texas Chainsaw' and the rash of flicks that followed -- the 'Saw' series, 'The Hills Have Eyes,' 'Hostel' -- returned to the take-no-prisoners, ultra-realistic tone of '70s grindhouse cinema, one where raw brutality, not suspense or funhouse thrills, was the most valuable commodity.

Although "torture porn" appears to be beginning to wane at the box office (as I write this, both the recent 'Hostel Part II' and 'Captivity' bombed), 'Hostel' will likely go down as the most notorious (and most divisive) of the wave, as this is the one film of the bunch that makes torture itself the very subject of the movie. While 'Texas Chainsaw' was essentially a slick slasher movie with a "hardcore" veneer, the marketing hook that sold 'Hostel' to the horror-loving masses was the promise of seeing the most relentless, brutal and uncompromising scenes of suffering ever committed to celluloid. In fact, on the eve of the film's release, writer/director Eli Roth even boasted of pre-release screenings where "somebody puked, somebody passed out, and somebody went to the hospital... when I heard of people doing that in theaters, I was pretty psyched."

The story is fairly straight-forward. Loudmouth, boorish (and relentlessly homophobic) college frat boys Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) are looking for a good time while on spring break in Slovakia. After nearly an hour of on-screen beer-drinkin' and babe-sniffin', these two dolts get enticed to visit the pleasure palace of their dreams -- which turns out to be the nightmare of the film's title. Awakening to find themselves bound and gagged, they discover to their horror that they are pawns in an elaborate game of human trafficking -- victims to be sold to the highest bidder with murder on their minds.

Personally, I've always found 'Hostel' to be disappointing, first and foremost as a horror film but also in its missed opportunities as social commentary. To be sure, Roth is quite adept when it comes to tightening the screws -- in fact, there is a real flair to the way he creates an air of unease and palpable dread throughout the first two-thirds of the film. We know something awful is in store for these tourists (however insufferable they may be), and Roth exploits this to the hilt without resorting to any overt violence or bloodshed. It's the sign of, if not a truly inspired auteur, then at least a skilled craftsman in the making. Unfortunately, it is in the final act -- where Roth must "deliver the goods" and give us the exploitation payoff we've been waiting for -- where the film degenerates into grindhouse excess, gore for gore's sake and, ultimately, utter silliness.

Following the hour of 'Porky's'-lite that proceeds it, it's pretty hard to take the over-the-top grand guignol of 'Hostel's last 30 minutes seriously. Yes, it's mean-spirited, but the much-touted gore looks rather fake, and the hostel of the film's title is just plain absurd. First off, this is another one of those moodily-lit torture dungeons that only seem to exist in movies. It's not scary -- it's an exercise in art direction. And disappointingly, Roth pays little mind to the mechanics of the organization, from how they go about keeping a lid on their cover operations, let alone advertising for clients. A film that at least touched on the moral implications in such a business could have been fascinating, and even more disturbing. But none of that is addressed in Roth's screenplay -- instead, what we get is yet another horror flick where unlikable characters wake up to find themselves in a bloodbath, and must fight to the death to escape the Gothic Old Mansion (or torture dungeon, in this case) and thwart the evildoers.

Of course, 'Hostel' is not the first film to sell out an interesting premise in favor of a gross-out show. But because 'Hostel' came only a few years after 9/11, and as daily atrocities around the world are beamed into our homes for easy viewing, the wasted opportunity inherent in the subject matter is particularly dispiriting. The idea of selling suffering to the highest bidder has the makings of a truly thought-provoking (albeit disturbing) modern-day genre classic, but Roth simply uses it as an entre to serve up a smorgasbord of envelope-pushing on-screen mayhem.

Make no mistake, as the proud child of '70s grindhouse cinema myself, I am a fan of the stock-in-trade Roth so gleefully parrots in 'Hostel.' But even the grimmest, most controversial shockers of that era ('Last House on the Left,' 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' 'The Hills Have Eyes') had a truly subversive, political bent, as well a passion on the part of their makers to leave the viewer with themes as disturbing as their images. Just as Vietnam informed the taboo-busting aesthetic of '70s horror, today's "torture porn" is arguably a refection of our post-9/11 fears -- but because 'Hostel' isn't about anything, Roth's schlocky, drive-in conventions pack surprisingly little punch.

In the end, if 'Hostel' is to have any legacy in the horror pantheon in the years to come, it may only be to illustrate just how increasingly-permissive the MPAA has become in terms of on-screen violence -- and how much money you can make marketing brutality. Which is a shame, because 'Hostel' is not a badly made movie, and Roth is clearly a talented writer/director -- I just wish he would focus his developing talents on material that actually means something.

(Note that this Blu-ray import includes the "Unseen" edition of the film, featuring a few shots deemed too hot for theaters, but the additional footage is inconsequential to the plot.)

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

This UK Blu-ray edition of 'Hostel' was released in October 2006, and seeing as this release is still relatively fresh, it's likely we're looking at the same master that will be used for the upcoming domestic US Blu-ray version. That's not a bad thing, as this is a very solid 1080p/MPEG-2 encode.

As another example of what I like to call the "designer gloom" style of cinematography, 'Hostel' both recalls the dirty aesthetic of '70s grindhouse flicks but is still a very slick, medium-budgeted horror flick. While the film itself has an intentionally "gritty" look with lots of grain, this is otherwise a near-pristine print, with no obvious defects. Perhaps the source is ultimately slightly more soft than the sharpest recent transfers I've seen, but given the nature of the film, it is certainly appropriate. I wasn't able to spot any compression artifacts, even though Sony opted for MPEG-2 here instead of the more widely-praised AVC MPEG-4 codec.

The rest of the presentation is also strong. Though it appears there has been some boosting of contrast and some crushing of blacks to boost apparent depth, the image retains a relatively natural appearance and is not overly harsh. This results in a strong amount of detail, with solid shadow delineation that gives the movie a textured, pleasing look that's often quite thee-dimensional. Colors vary, but only in relation to the stylistic intent -- the first "party hearty" half of the film is brighter, while hues become desaturated as we enter the hostel and the nightmare begins. Color reproduction is also well done, with no overt bleeding, noise or smearing.

All things considered, a solid four-star transfer.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

This 'Hostel' UK Blu-ray edition features two audio mixes -- an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit/6.9mbps) and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) track, and again it's probable that this will be the same mix that we'll get on the upcoming US domestic Blu-ray release.

Whatever one thinks of the film he made, Eli Roth certainly is attuned to the conventional tricks of the horror movie trade. As such, the sound design is just about always spot-on, with lots of creepy ambiance. The most effective parts of the film are when the characters get to the hostel and slowly realize just what they've gotten themselves into. Roth makes good use of the surrounds here, as the mix of various harsh sound effects (revving chainsaws, scraping instruments of torture, etc.) and Nathan Barr's jarring score is quite unnerving. The clarity and accuracy of discrete sounds here is particularly well done.

Dynamics also impress. Output from the subwoofer is palpable and tight, with strong use of unsettling low bass tones particularly effective. Dialogue is also very clear and distinct, especially for what could easily have been just another poorly-done exploitation flick. Granted, 'Hostel' doesn't deliver a consistently aggressive soundfield, but when it works... it's scary.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Alas, there is not a single extra on this UK edition of 'Hostel.' That's a bit of a surprise, as the standard DVD edition had plenty of goodies. Guess 'Hostel' fans will just have to wait for Sony's upcoming US Blu-ray version due this October, which is due to feature a slew of extras, including the film's original ending, three audio commentaries, six featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives, either.

Final Thoughts

'Hostel' generated reams of controversy for its intense graphic violence and shocking subject matter. Once you get past the surface-level brutality, however, there is very little going on under the hood. As a fan of the '70s era grindhouse cinema that clearly inspired the film, I've always felt that writer/director Eli Roth just doesn't exploit his potentially fascinating subject matter to truly disturbing effect.

This UK Blu-ray release from Sony certainly delivers on the bottom line with a first-rate transfer and soundtrack. The complete lack of extras, however, make this one a tough sell -- especially considering that Sony is releasing a packed, BD-50 dual-layer version of 'Hostel' here in the States that will have a ton of extras and even a few new Blu-ray exclusives. I would advise all but the most impatient horror fans save their money and wait for the upcoming US version.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-25 Single-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-2

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-Bit/4.6mbps)
  • French PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-Bit/4.6mpbs)
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (448kpbs)
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Norwegian Subtitles
  • Polish Subtitles
  • Swedish Subtitles
  • Turkish Subtitles
  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Arabic Subtitles
  • Czech Subtitles
  • Danish Subtitles
  • Dutch Subtitles
  • Finnish Subtitles
  • Greek Subtitles
  • Hebrew Subtitles
  • Hindi Subtitles
  • Hebrew Subtitles

Supplements

  • None

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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