Saturday, June 16, 2012


So sorry to leave you hanging there for so long, Brandon. Of course I've got your back, brother! And I'm responding still having only read through about May 18. I'm slowly trying to catch up, and hoping that my late entries into these discussions will still garner some comments.

Yes, it's true that certain movies get trounced for their formulas while others are allowed to slide by. I'd argue that films with more mainstream appeal--comedies, romance, drama, action to a degree--are given more leeway because, well, more people get into the formula. But sci-fi and horror film fans are a smaller (and more dedicated) audience (do they have rom-com cons?) and therefore those films and their fans become easier targets. Not to mention the fact that lovers of these genres also recognize and relish the formulas their beloved movies often follow. Galaxy Quest was a really fun film that lovingly poked fun at Trekkies and it was successful (in my estimation) because of how it integrated the world of the sci-fi film with the world of the sci-fi film fan. I only mention that because we've already discussed a few horror films that take similar approaches in how they play with the traditional formulas (though GQ is unique in the way in incorporates its fans into the plot): Cabin Fever, Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale, etc. Hostel does some of the same thing, but it's ultimately a much more serious film, gangs of street urchins notwithstanding.

So here's why Hostel is not just another formulaic horror film and why it stands out. First of all, all the main characters are men. Men get duped, men get tortured, men get killed. Yes, there are a few female characters involved (so we can see that the organization doesn't only purchase men) but our attentions are focused on these young-men-as-meat. This is partly why I've put off for so long watching the sequel. I thinking making the protagonists female strips the film of one of its most powerful breaks from formula--it portrays men as victims. Now lets look at our two heroes, Josh and Paxton. Paxton is your typical womanizing college frat boy, while Josh is the sensitive virgin. Watching the film, we totally expect that Josh is going to be the one to survive, because, well, the virgin always survives (this is why it's funny when Cabin in the Woods plays around so much with the trope). But, no, Josh is dispatched pretty handily. So now we have Paxton left--to some degree it makes perfect sense that he would survive: he is more experienced and worldly than his friend and has the guts it takes to get himself out of there. But he also resorts to a lot of running and hiding, and fights not to overpower but to escape. This behavior is so very typical of female characters in horror films and it is refreshing and interesting to see a man in that role. He does rescue another character, and exact revenge on one of his butchers, redeeming his manliness somewhat, but in light of both the universality of Elite Hunting and the fact that his rescuee throws herself in front of a train, both acts are ultimately rendered futile. Paxton also loses a couple of fingers. In horror films, often the characters get out completely intact or they don't get out at all. It's unsettling to see a character survive a horror film maimed, and you don't see it often. It hits a little too close to home. We can be relieved because Paxton survives, but he has lost something permanently in a physical sense. [I'm thinking right now of Rick Grimes in the Walking Dead comics and how it's a testament to Kirkman's writing that he dared to cause his main character so early in the series to lose his hand, forcing himself to constantly write around it. Though he has admitted that he might not do the same thing, given the chance again.] It's possible that humans fear being disabled more than dying (I know I do), so to allow that to happen to a character in a horror film disrupts the roller coaster ride to an extent. Finally, on top of all the other breaks from the formula, you have, as Brandon points out, this notion of an organization that is so much bigger than a solitary psycho on the loose. Here's where Roth is making a serious commentary on the darkness of humanity. We're not dealing with a solitary crazy mental ward escapee, we're dealing with horror on an organized, global, and institutional level. So, no matter where Paxton goes, it fair to say that the horror he escaped from will still exist around him. And he'll have to live with the knowledge on a daily basis.

No offense, Jeff, but I chalk up your inability to see these distinctions to your lack of experience with the genre. Granted, a lack of desire for familiarity with the genre doesn't help either, but relegating films  for which you don't understand the appeal to "shit" may be a little harsh. I liked Transformers 1 and 3 (the second one was kinda crappy), if only because watching CGI robots duke it out is really cool to me. I won't say they're great movies but they deserve their audiences as much as your 1930's films or your highfalutin' artsy foreign films.

A word about Funny Games--the main difference between Funny Games and a film like Hostel is that FG focuses on the villains, while Hostel (and most horror films) focuses on the victims. In FG, we're essentially experiencing the horror through the bad guys' eyes (though we don't realize it at first), and it's a testament to Haneke's skill that he is able to do that effectively enough that we can see the satire and cynicism in their behavior. We're detached enough from this poor family's horror that we can be interested in the torturer's actions and in trying to figure out what could possibly be motivating them. They would make perfect candidates for A Clockwork Orange's government rehabilitation program, don't you think? Am I the only one who sees a striking correlation between these two films? The household rape scene in ACO seems to be cut from the same cloth as FG's feature-length sequence. It makes me wonder if it was all Haneke could do to keep his boys from belting out "Singin' in the Rain."

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