nathan smith’s review published on Letterboxd :
"be careful. you might spend all your money in there."
not at all surprised to find that this movie is very different from what its detractors made out to be, as is almost always the case with eli roth. the first third is american pie, the second third is body horror, the final horror is a hitchockian thriller. finally, american cinema has its Final Bro! despite his boorish, michael bay-like sense of humor, roth is actually a rather elegant formalist and a much more classically talented filmmaker than many would give him credit for. frequent use of the word "gay" as a pejorative aside, this has aged better than a lot of movies from 2005. the images are clean and well-lit instead of looking like a nine inch nails video, there's a robust orchestral score instead of buckethead, and roth uses montage to taunt and tease us as much as he actually shows us the desecration of flesh.
ten years on, it's hilarious (and also an indicator of how lazy a lot of mainstream criticism is) that this, SAW, and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS were lumped together under the label of "torture porn" since, although all three are no doubt extreme and excessive, how that extremity and excessiveness manifests is very different. all three use violence to very different ends (i still haven't seen SAW, but i feel comfortable assuming this); zombie aligns himself formally and contextually with new hollywood, linking his boundary-pushing violence to THE WILD BUNCH, BONNIE AND CLYDE, and other american films that pushed back against the hays code so hard it broke. zombie is funny in his own way but more often emotional and empathetic, whereas roth is the master of the scooby doo level abejctive gag, like when jay hernandez chokes on his own vomit because of the ball gag in his mouth or when the surgeon guy slips on blood and cuts his own leg off. however, roth explicitly alludes to porn in the text of this film, as we see one of the guards viewing pirated porn on a dvd player. roth places us in a lawless, unregulated world of bootlegs, dupes, dubbed movies, and pirated intellectual property, which is the world his own films exist in; at one time, HOSTEL PART 2 was supposedly the most (digitally) pirated movie of all time.
but beyond its form and its violence, the hostel films seem to hold the most interest for many critics and peers of mine in what they say about global capitalism. it's always nice to see a movie where networks of international finance are the real killers. jan vlasak's businessman says he wanted to be a surgeon because he fantasizes about "holding life in his hands," which is what capitalists want: to be surgeons, to control the bodies of others, to hold ultimate power and decide who is worth enough to live. these dark circuits of capital are linked rather explicitly to the holocaust, which honestly brought to mind MONSIEUR VERDOUX, a movie that very explicitly uses serial killing as a metaphor for how capitalism incentivizes death, mass murder, and genocide. VERDOUX and HOSTEL alike remind us that, like chaplin says in the former film, "business is a ruthless business." all money is blood money, and every death is someone else's pay day. the former soviet bloc setting and babyfaced teen movie stars also bring to mind john mctiernan's ROLLERBALL, another great contemporaneous anti-capitalist movie.
i know this wasn't probably roth's intent at all, but it's interesting to me that paxton is lured to the dungeon by being told it's an "art exhibition" that his friends have attended, since the contemporary art business is basically the world's biggest unregulated market aside from, like, drugs or human trafficking. there are these giant, extraterritorial warehouses called "Freeports" in places like geneva and singapore that are these massive storehouses for millions of dollars worth of art, wine, and valuables, and no one knows what's inside them because they are exempt from any government oversight and exist independently of any national body. in the torture factory of HOSTEL and the freeports of the art market, capitalism exists at its most naked and exposed, stripped of the governmental structures it often hides behind. every dollar spent is another toe cut off, another eyeball ripped out, another leg gashed open. capitalism's basic unit isn't the dollar or even the commodity but flesh itself, and its most basic exchange is a knife against the skin.