A Lesson in Torture Porn via Hostel

I’m a really huge fan of horror movies, but I would be putting it lightly if I said that Eli Roth’s (in)famous(ly dreadful) Hostel disappointed me. It’s misanthropic and sleazy, but also just generally not very well thought out, and dull, dull, dull.

I may have just ignored this film altogether, if not for the fact that a viewing of it was required for one of the latter lessons of my horror movies class. The section we’re on is on torture porn, and a previous viewing was of the original Saw (2006). According to this lesson, a common troupe of torture porn involved an echoing of anxieties that had been previously felt regarding Nazi death camps of the Holocaust. The antagonist of such films is usually German-speaking and/or a former Nazi member, who is usually cool, calm, and collected in asserting their pronounced authority over their victims. Moreover, the methods of torture often reminisce similar methods in concentration camps – e.g. ovens, showers, etc.

An additional element involves the aspect of the medicinal and surgical tendencies of torture. Such aspects may be referencing the infamous Joseph Mengele. The terror comes from these doctoral performances, which are often used to benefit the human body; this time, it is manipulated as a form of intentional pain and deconstruction, which is unfamiliar and, therefore, horrific. In films of the torture porn genre, unwanted injections are often performed, and handicraft tools, such as drills and hammers, are often implicated to force pain – perhaps with pleasure to the victimizer.

With that in mind, I can see where Roth may have been going with this, intentionally or not. Not only were there blatant references to such Holocaust-era anxieties (a bit too blatant, if you ask me), there is also a supplementary element that could be detected. I do find it very interesting how common it is for horror movies into the 21st century to be significantly grimmer, to reflect the post-9/11 concerns and fears that permeated – and continues to permeate – through the nation’s core. Scenes of torture in such films are often inexplicable, with ambiguous or absent motives behind them. The underlying fear of the unknowing is at an all-time high here, as the victims are desperate to, not only survive, but also decode the enigma of their being placed in such a situation. In that case, such a phenomenon is present in Hostel.

The problem, however, is that while Roth seems like the kind of director who has, undoubtedly, seen many a horror film in his time, I’m not convinced that he has learned very much from them. The entire first third of this film is presented as an American Pie-ish escapade among friends in Amsterdam, where their primary motives are to get high and get laid. Afterward, the tone shifts clumsily into the true conflict of the film, as these individuals are seemingly punished for their selfish, hedonistic intentions. So, in other words, general horror movie formula. However, as these themes are set upon the table, they remain little else than a mere foundation for what Roth seems to consider the true substance of the film – mindless gore and violence for the sake of shock value.

From the start, I really had no reasoning to really care whether the film’s protagonists lived or died. They seemed too shallow and single-minded for me to form a personal connection, nor for me to assume that they were some odd representation of humankind as a whole. Therefore, the scenes of torture seemed like little else than that. Roth seems to gain some kind of self-fulfillment for portraying instances that seem to go for little else than shock value, whether it be through sex, language, gore, or horror. Above all, the film was just boring. Every stabbing or mutilation felt like it took hours to endure, which perhaps was the point, but I fail to see any form of redeeming factors in the end. The one positive thing I could state about this film, is that it’s evident that it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. For fans of mindless violence, mindless violence this serves. Though in conclusion, Hostel seems to be just as vapid and empty as its young adult protagonists.

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One Response to A Lesson in Torture Porn via Hostel

  1. Sir Phobos says:

    I used to be able to watch movies like this, but now I find realistic, lingering violence of this kind unwatchable. I actually love the movie before the shit hits the fan. It’s just funny, and the characters are believable. Then…graphic torture. Not my bag anymore, I guess. And you’re right, I don’t see any redeeming value in the mere fact there is torture in a movie. There has to be something else going for it. Have a look at Martyrs if you haven’t seen it.

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