Today I went with a friend to see a $2 matinee of Hostel 2 at the Millennium Youth Complex over on the east side. (Incidentally, we arrived smack dab in the middle of the Friday Night Lights crew shooting something there. When we walked in, someone at the door asked us if we were there to be extras, and we said no; I really wish I’d had the foresight to say yes, but I’m sure they had a list or something anyway.)
I don’t care much for this new breed of horror film that’s become very popular in the last few years, otherwise known as “torture porn” by those hipsters in the know. I think “torture porn” is just about the dumbest label ever applied to any genre of film ever, by the way. I don’t quite understand why a film like Hostel gets stuck with such a simple-minded moniker, since that film contains about 2 minutes, tops, of actual violence, while a movie like, oh, I don’t know, A Nightmare on Elm Street, which came out almost 30 years ago, contains scenes of a far more savage and prolonged nature, and it’s hailed by pretty much everyone I know as a brilliant horror classic. I’ve seen only the first Saw movie, which I hated. I haven’t seen Wolf Creek, either of the Hills Have Eyes remakes, or Captivity. I saw Haute Tension, which I thought was awful, and I saw the Texas Chainsaw remake, which I didn’t think was awful, but didn’t think it was good, either.
What I realized watching Hostel today, was that I think the reason it gets such a bad rap by critics and bloggers the world over, is because it’s actually a good film. Which is also why, I think, I loved both Hostels, but hate all the other movies that get lumped in with it. (Or at least I assume I would hate them if I bothered to watch any of them, which I never will, because frankly, I just don’t care.) I find the buildup and tension in both Hostel films to be almost unbearable; in fact, the anticipation I find far worse than the violence itself, which is usually brief and quick (though, admittedly, pretty brutal). I think that’s the sign of a powerful and intelligent filmmaker, which I also think is what pisses everybody off about those movies. Roth does an incredible job of creating an atmosphere of such intense dread and foreboding, that my heart was beating out of my chest before anything even happened. And isn’t that what a good horror film is supposed to do? I also realized that Roth, at least in my opinion, treats violence with the gravity, and soul-crushing respect that it deserves. I mean, shouldn’t violence be unsettling and hard to watch? I find flippant portrayals of violence (such as those in Tarantino movies, for instance, or even in crap like Die Hard) to be far more offensive and cruel than anything in Hostel. You should dread seeing violence, it should make you quiver and shake and uncomfortable. I think Roth treats his characters with more humanity and respect than most horror films do. He gives them lives, and backgrounds, and makes you feel genuinely bad and upset at their suffering, rather than a participant in it.
Anybody who has an even rudimentary understanding of psychology knows that the root of anger is a feeling of helplessness. Which, I guess, is what so confounds me about the anger directed towards these crappy little stylized pieces of pop culture throwaway. Which is ultimately all that they are. They’re movies, for christ’s sake. If the people complaining the loudest about them weren’t also the same people lining up on opening night to be the first in line to see them, I might be able to take their righteous anger a little more seriously than I do, but I just can’t. What is it about Hostel, in particular, that gets people so fired up, and what is it about the existence of these films that makes people feel so helpless (although they’re all putting their money towards making more of them, so maybe they’re not that genuinely angry about them, after all, who knows)?
I haven’t learned a whole lot in my 30 years of life that’s very useful, but one thing I have learned is that anger without action is useless and eats at your soul. Anger left to fester will just make you hard, and cynical, and bitter and mean. Maybe getting out there and marching across downtown with your anti-war sign won’t mean a thing to the lunatic in the White House, but maybe it will just make you feel better. Maybe volunteering at a women’s shelter won’t make all the domestic abuse in the world go away, but it will make a difference in someone’s life, and it will make you feel a little more in control of a chaotic and scary world than maybe you thought you could. Maybe after your heart’s been shattered and you feel helpless, hopeless, and more bitter than you ever thought possible, helping people who can’t help themselves won’t bring your relationship back, but it can put things in perspective for you. I guess after almost 2 years of seeing the real-life horror of death and unspeakable suffering up close, it’s hard for me to get too upset over something so silly and inconsequential as a horror film. Sometimes it just helps to yell and scream and put your angst into something tangible, but sometimes something more is required of you. Sometimes you realize it’s time to get up out of your chair, and stop just reading and writing about the world, but actually start living and participating in it. This is the reason, ultimately, I feel that pundits and critics are some of the most useless people that exist on earth. If something like a dumb little trashy horror movie starring Hollywood actors gets you so excited and upset that you actually accuse the participants of having lost pieces of their souls (if that isn’t one of the most condescending and melodramatic things I’ve ever heard, I’m not sure what is), then maybe it’s time you started trying to make a difference in the world instead of sitting in your cushy hotel room or at your cushy job and criticizing everybody else who is.