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Regarding the torture of dudes: David Rimanelli and Hanna Liden on Hostel.

LATE ONE NIGHT, bored and unsleepy, we dropped in at our favorite local twenty-four-hour video store--you know, the kind that primarily trades in skin flicks but also stocks a large selection of normal Hollywood product, not to mention the occasional Bergman or Fellini film. Scanning the new releases, we fixed on a splatter film intriguingly (and no doubt punningly) titled Hostel, and eagerly opted for its promise of creepiness and low thrills, and the quality assurance of the tagline "Quentin Tarantino Presents." Brokeback Mountain would just have to wait--again.

"Hostel is a shocking and relentless film," the DVD DVD: see digital versatile disc.
 in full digital video disc or digital versatile disc

Type of optical disc. The DVD represents the second generation of compact-disc (CD) technology.
 packaging warned us about Eli Roth's high-grossing slaughterfest, which tracks "two Americans ... backpacking through Europe who find themselves lured in as victims of a murder-for-profit business." But nothing could have prepared us for the shock of recognition that would greet us upon popping the disc into the DVD player. As we watched the young auteur's follow-up to Cabin Fever (2002), our eyes erect with surprised excitement and fascination, we kept turning to stare at each other, feeling strangely paranoid, as if Roth had raped our unconscious minds: a movie about dude-ism and the evil New Europe, two of our favorite obsessions!

Indeed, as the story unfolded we encountered precise details and narrative twists touching on the cultural conflicts and perverted consequences we all face as the very psychogeography of Western civilization is being redefined. Any number of critics and commentators, including the director himself, have suggested that the film reflects the queasy QUEASY - An early system on the IBM 701.

[Listed in CACM 2(5):16 (May 1959)].
 moral climate of the United States in the wake of Abu Ghraib and other dubious foreign-policy incidents and international public-relations disasters. "Fear supplants empathy and makes us all potential torturers, doesn't it?" writes David Edelstein in New York magazine ("Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn," February 6, 2006). "Post-9/11, we've engaged in a national debate about the morality of torture, fueled by horrifying pictures of manifestly decent men and women (some of them, anyway) enacting brutal scenarios of domination at Abu Ghraib." Domestic anxieties over America's current ambiguous ethical position in the world at large are projected onto the malfeasance and duplicity DUPLICITY, pleading. Duplicity of pleading consists in multiplicity of distinct matter to one and the same thing, whereunto several answers are required. Duplicity may occur in one and the same pleading.  of foreigners. Following this trickle of thought, Hostel bluntly allegorizes the displacement of American guilt onto those irritating snots in Europe, and the diabolists are conveniently located in the seeming terrain vague of the former Eastern Bloc. And what are we to make of Roth's prescience--nay, clairvoyance--in siting his clandestine torture facility in Eastern Europe in a film that test screened only weeks before the Washington Post broke the story about, yes, clandestine CIA CIA: see Central Intelligence Agency.

(1) (Confidentiality Integrity Authentication) The three important concerns with regards to information security. Encryption is used to provide confidentiality (privacy, secrecy).
 torture facilities in Eastern Europe? But here, of course, in a neat reversal, the featured victims are principally Americans--or at least first-world types (like Icelanders, if they count).


The credits sequence immediately delves into the murder factory, giving us a preview of the promised gore, as blood and teeth drain noisily into the gutter during what is apparently a shoddy cleanup job after a recent dismemberment dismemberment /dis·mem·ber·ment/ (dis-mem´ber-ment) amputation of a limb or a portion of it.


amputation of a limb or a portion of it.
. The filthy residue that runs down the tile walls, one can't help but note, bears a striking resemblance to the foam of the now-ubiquitous Starbucks Mocha Mocha (mō`kə), town (1990 est. pop. 2,000), S Yemen, a port on the Red Sea. It was noted for the export of the coffee to which it gave its name but declined as a trading port in the late 19th cent. with the rise of Hodeida and Aden.  Frappuccino. Could this be a coincidence? Cut to Amsterdam and our dude heroes, Paxton and Josh (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson), smoking it up in a coffee shop. Their newfound pal, an Icelandic sleazebag sleaze·bag  
n. Slang
A person regarded as sleazy.
 named Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), joins them, dragging to the table a very tired-looking young lady, as they choke on their hookahs. Paxton, a Californian fresh out of college, objects, remarking, "We can't rail a girl who's in a coma. I think that's illegal even in Amsterdam." Subsequently, they investigate a Wallpaper*-ish whorehouse, but their late-night boyish shenanigans cause them to return to their hostel postcurfew. Bummer bum·mer  
1. Slang An adverse reaction to a hallucinogenic drug.

2. Slang One that depresses, frustrates, or disappoints: Getting stranded at the airport was a real bummer.
, dudes. In an episode not so clearly explained, they end up climbing into the apartment (or something) of wild local youths. There they meet Alexei, aka Alex (Lubomir Bukovy), a super-sketchy yet friendly Eastern European pimp. "Looking for girls? So talk to Alex, he open up the pussy pus·sy
Containing or resembling pus.

puss, pussy

term of endearment addressed to a cat. Called also moggy.
 all over the Europe," he exhorts. "You have to go east, my friend. These girls"--Alex here proffers digital photos of himself entangled en·tan·gle  
tr.v. en·tan·gled, en·tan·gling, en·tan·gles
1. To twist together or entwine into a confusing mass; snarl.

2. To complicate; confuse.

3. To involve in or as if in a tangle.
 among a trio of Slovakian hotties--"I met at this one hostel ... just outside Bratislava.... You won't find this hostel in any guidebook. They hear your accent, they fuck you. There are so much pussy and because of the war"--P.S.: What war, Alex?--"there are no guys. They go crazy for any foreigner, especially Americans. You just take them." Dudes hop on next train to Bratislava.

The nameless fairy-tale town they cab to is predictably old-world charming in the vein of a New York Times travel-section feature. Alex's fabled hostel looks like a converted Rococo villa. Pulp Fiction, dubbed into Slovak, is playing on the lobby television. The dudes are taken aback by their initial encounter with their new roommates, Svetlana and Natalya (Jana Kaderabkova and Barbara Nedeljakova), who are in a state of carefree dishabille dis·ha·bille   also des·ha·bille
1. The state of being partially or very casually dressed.

2. Casual or lounging attire.

3. An intentionally careless manner.
, changing from one Juicy Couture separate to another. Catalogue-model looks and moves aside, not to mention awesome tits and asses, the girls seem friendly. "We are going to the spa," says Natalya. "You should come," Svetlana devilishly dev·il·ish  
1. Of, resembling, or characteristic of a devil, as:
a. Malicious; evil.

b. Mischievous, teasing, or annoying.

2. Excessive; extreme: devilish heat.

Torn between shapeless shape·less  
1. Lacking a definite shape.

2. Lacking symmetrical or attractive form; not shapely.

 frocks and black-market Uggs, babushka-type headgear headgear,
n the apparatus encircling the head or neck and providing attachment for an intraoral appliance in use of extraoral anchorage.

headgear, radiologic,
n a device that is used to protect the head from injury by radiation.
 and Von Dutch baseball caps, real-life Slovakia is a country in the process of transformation. Only now is it emerging as a tourist destination--something devoutly wished for by its government--and as such it's an appropriately counterintuitive coun·ter·in·tu·i·tive  
Contrary to what intuition or common sense would indicate: "Scientists made clear what may at first seem counterintuitive, that the capacity to be pleasant toward a fellow creature is ...
 setting for this fucked fantasy of benighted be·night·ed  
1. Overtaken by night or darkness.

2. Being in a state of moral or intellectual darkness; unenlightened.

 innocents abroad. Roth says he initially got the idea for Hostel from a website advertising a murder-for-thrills business in Thailand (another must-go destination for dudes): For $10,000, you got to kill a person. Tourism and capitalism gone berserk.


Svetlana and Natalya seem to take a shine to our boys, showing them what the local nightlife has to offer; turns out, this involves consumption of Ecstasy, or some local derivative. Back at the hostel, the girls perform what could be characterized as synchronized date rape on eight-mile-high dudes--happy dudes. Postcoitus, Paxton remarks smugly to Josh, "Mission accomplished" (echoing the slogan of another self-satisfied American who had recently fucked foreigners?). At this point, the boys (and at that point the president) think they're just fucking; soon enough they learn they're fucked over. Dudes' smirking delight in sexual conquest dims upon the discovery of their Icelandic boon companion's sudden and unexplained disappearance. When Josh, in all likelihood a closet homosexual (remember his asthma attack in response to Natalya's advances?), vanishes the next day, Paxton wants answers from the girls, who are hanging out in an old-school bar, prattling--much to his annoyance--in some foreign language (subtitles not provided). Svetlana and Natalya have changed their look; Roth has given them a Transylvanian makeover. Cleverly borrowing from Juergen Teller and Corinne Day, he resurrects the dominant aesthetic of '90s fashion photography--heroin chic--thereby clarifying that these girls are seriously smacked-up, horsed-out, full-on junkies. Pale-faced and pin-eyed Natalya explains that Josh and Oli are at an "exhibition for artists," and gives Paxton a ride to the venue, an abandoned industrial site accessorized with Shoah-esque crematorium cre·ma·to·ri·um  
n. pl. cre·ma·to·ri·ums or cre·ma·to·ri·a
A furnace or establishment for the incineration of corpses.


pl -riums or
 smokestack and the full Dr. Mengele tool kit. The vaunted vaunt  
v. vaunt·ed, vaunt·ing, vaunts
To speak boastfully of; brag about.

To speak boastfully; brag. See Synonyms at boast1.

 horrors commence.

"For Kill Bill, I had to make one version for Japan and a less violent version for America," Quentin Tarantino remarked of the development of extreme-violence cinema. "Eli was able to make the Japanese version and release it in America" ("Scream Kings: Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino," New York magazine, January 9, 2006). Roth acknowledges his debts to Asian Extreme at several points in Hostel, for instance casting J-horror superstar director Takashi Miike in a cameo role. But given that this is a Hollywood movie (banking on a sequel), somebody has to get out alive: Paxton--the last of our three dudes to be delivered into the hands of the evildoers, by the nefarious Natalya--is the lucky one who manages to escape the meatpacking meatpacking or meat-processing, wholesale business of buying and slaughtering animals and then processing and distributing their carcasses to retailers. The livestock industry is among the largest in the world.  district; he stumbles upon the client/killer changing room and absconds with an elegant suit and coat, and a big gray Dries Van Noten-type man-shawl. But just as he's about to make his getaway, "Pax" succumbs (in typical American/messianic style) to misguided heroic ambition.

Hearing the screams of Kana (Jennifer Lim), one of two Japanese girls he befriended at the hostel, he can't resist returning to the dungeon to rescue her. Her face, alas, has been severely disfigured dis·fig·ure  
tr.v. dis·fig·ured, dis·fig·ur·ing, dis·fig·ures
To mar or spoil the appearance or shape of; deform.

[Middle English disfiguren, from Old French desfigurer
 by a blowtorch, and one of her eyes has popped out. The befuddled Pax then clips it off with scissors scissors

Cutting instrument or tool consisting of a pair of opposed metal blades that meet and cut when the handles at their ends are brought together. Modern scissors are of two types: the more usual pivoted blades have a rivet or screw connection between the cutting ends
; yellow slime gushes forth. They steal a car and hightail high·tail   Slang
intr.v. high·tailed, high·tail·ing, high·tails
To go as fast as possible, especially in fleeing: hightailed out of town.
 it to the train station, literally running into Svetlana and Natalya on the way. Nobody on the platform seems to notice Kana's facial alteration--except, unfortunately, Kana, who haphazardly catches a glimpse of her own reflection. Transfixed by the new look, she congeals into a generic J-horror/video-game character and carpe diems by hurling herself under an approaching locomotive. Vanity suicide.

Kana's demise calls to mind Shion Sono's Suicide Club (2002), wherein young Japanese women collectively make a mass-suicide pact online. While we see not one computer in Hostel, the entire narrative is ultimately dependent on the respiratory system of the World Wide Web. Clients gain access to Elite Hunting--the name of the thrill-kill operation--through an e-mail address printed on a business card: blatanikov@gang.rus. We tried e-mailing to ask for prices, without results. Guess the movie's fictionalized.

When Hostel opened in theaters at the beginning of the year, it was thoroughly savaged in the press, as one would expect. Perhaps the most egregiously wrongheaded comment was made by Nathan Lee in a disparaging dis·par·age  
tr.v. dis·par·aged, dis·par·ag·ing, dis·par·ag·es
1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. See Synonyms at decry.

2. To reduce in esteem or rank.
 review of the movie in the New York Times (January 6, 2006), in which he asserted that it is "one of the most misogynistic mi·sog·y·nis·tic   also mi·sog·y·nous
Of or characterized by a hatred of women.

Adj. 1. misogynistic - hating women in particular

ill-natured - having an irritable and unpleasant disposition
 films ever made." This statement leaves us nonplussed non·plus  
tr.v. non·plused also non·plussed, non·plus·ing also non·plus·sing, non·plus·es also non·plus·ses
To put at a loss as to what to think, say, or do; bewilder.

. It raises several questions--for starters, has Lee ever seen any American, European, Asian, or, for that matter, Australian outback movies? What an embarrassment of cinematic riches he has yet to discover. Maybe he could start with Gaspar Noe's Irreversible (2002), a favorite among art dudes. Somehow, a nine-minute-long anal rape of a pregnant woman in a public space strikes us as less artistically valid than the atrocities depicted in Hostel. Anyone with a modicum of street experience knows that the average rape, anal-pregnant or regular, takes about two minutes or less.

Irreversible pretentiously aspires to expose the internalized wickedness of Europe. It fails, whereas the allegory of Hostel--borne on the shoulders of our main dude, Pax Americana--perspicuously reflects still-unresolved conflicts rooted in various dark and mortifying mor·ti·fy  
v. mor·ti·fied, mor·ti·fy·ing, mor·ti·fies
1. To cause to experience shame, humiliation, or wounded pride; humiliate.

 episodes of Europe's past (Nazism, for starters) and haunting its less-than-dazzling present. You couldn't really say that Hostel is, um, intellectually nuanced, but through its imbrication imbrication

surgical pleating and folding of tissue to realign organs and provide extra support, e.g. chronically stretched joint capsule.

Flo imbrication
 of dialogue, locations, props, and fashions, it communicates as efficiently as a bullet to the head.


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Title Annotation:Hostel
Author:Liden, Hanna
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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