Hostel takeover: "Horror pornography" tops the box office, defeats Aslan

(Thanks to Peter T. Chattaway for noting this so quickly.)

A movie that gives audiences the opportunity to watch human beings tortured, decapitated, having their throats cut, their heads smashed in, parts of their body chopped up and thrown in a furnace, shot point blank, their eyes dangling from their sockets and eventually cut (to relieve the pain), poked full of holes with a drill, having digits snipped off, throwing themselves in front of trains, having their chest cavities opened for more torture….

…. is #1 at the box office this weekend, according to early numbers.

In fact, Eli Roth’s hyperviolent Hostel looks like it not just defeat, but overwhelm both Aslan and King Kong at the Box Office.

Brokeback Mountain is getting all kinds of flack from conservatives beyond the boundaries of Christian movie reviews. But it’s nowhere near #1. It’ll be interesting to see how many “culture-watchers” sound an alarm over America’s embrace of a movie that even mainstream critics are calling “horror porn.”

I don’t want to just write something off because it’s violent. I’ve defended a lot of violent films as worthwhile and redeeming, from Saving Private Ryan to A History of Violence. But in those cases, the violence has served a meaningful purpose, and I’ve provided plenty of cautions about the content, qualifying that only discerning and conscientious adult viewers should proceed.

And in a sense, the description above bears some similarity to Dante’s L’Inferno. But L’Inferno is a dead-serious work of art about the nature of hell and the wages of sin. Is Hostel serious about anything?

Some critics think so.

Still… what’s being advertised? Human suffering, as entertainment. And lately, it seems there’s a contest on to see who can serve up the most taxing and extreme display of grotesquerie and bloodshed.

I invite anyone who sees Hostel to post a comment and defend the film here, if they’ve seen it. Since I haven’t seen it, all I can do is pass along what I’m hearing. (Please don’t misunderstand this as an exhortation to go see it for yourself, though. I suspect the nay-sayers are right about this one.)

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  • Michael Knepher

    Well, Jeffrey, *I* listened to you…

    When my wife and I had one of our rare nights out without the kids, I convinced her to forego Narnia and to see The New World. She had thought it was a standard historical epic, a la Last of the Mohicans, but when I told her that from my understanding, it would be in no way like that, she agreed to see it. And as we were going up the escalator to the theaters, we saw a couple from our church coming out. They had just seen it, and the husband’s statement was, “It was … interesting.” I have an idea they were expecting “Last of the Mohicans.”

    What can I say about what followed except that I saw one of the most emotionally engaging films that I’ve seen in many years, that used not words, but images, to convey that emotion. Malick’s use of so little to convey so much just blew me away.

    One thing that’s interesting about it is the seeming paradox that the scenes are always very intimate and close, but that it is definitely, as Wenders suggests, a *big-screen* experience – and I’m glad I got a chance to see it that way.

    One of my favorite moments is when the chief’s emissary enters the English park and sees the beautiful rows of carefully cultivated trees shrouded in an eerily quiet morning fog. He seems so small and so overwhelmed by such a seemingly superfluous example of the European’s domestication of nature (while your mind’s eye is recollecting and comparing the scenes of the Native Americans’ decidedly un-“domesticated/ing” relationship with their surroundings) – both worlds are equally “old” and “new”, but the approach to the land on the part of their respective inhabitants is so different, and knowing the history of what is to unfold, that I couldn’t help but cry over both the beauty that those trees represented in themselves, and for the inevitability they represented for the emissary and his people, and for their land.

    Thanks for your championing of this film, Jeffrey. It was truly a transcendent experience.

  • Credo

    I’ve only ever walked out of one movie, and that’s because it was – to borrow your term – “horror porn.”

    Final Destination 2.

    I watched the first movie, and while it was violent, the violence was tolerable. It was a live action cartoon. (A very, very morbid cartoon…)

    However the sequel was an unmitigated snuff film. When it became apparent that there was no story, I walked out.

    The only other time I’ve wanted to leave a movie due to violence was at the climax of Hannibal. The dinner party scene was absolutely sickening. I stayed because I wanted to see the resolution, but the explicitness of that scene made me realise that Ridley Scott doesn’t get horror. It’s the build-up, not the reveal that is frightening. The scene wasn’t scary but sickening. (To his credit, I believe that Brett Ratner handled the topic of cannibalism much better than Scott did.)

    Despite my disgust, I stayed for the end of the film. I tolerated the gore because (while excessive and indulgent) the violence served the story.

    I think Eli Roth’s conception is that violence is the story. He’s obviously from the Bob Guccione school of film.

    (For what its worth, the only other movie I’ve wanted to leave was the Producers. What an abysmal first act. What would I have to do to ensure Matthew Broderick never makes another movie?)

  • Anonymous

    The thing that gets my dander up-as a plain, old-fashioned moviegoer who likes her white hats battered but triumphant, her black hats dead, and her gray hats redeemed, at the end of 100-130min. of rollicking adventure-about the “violence prn” label, is that it too often gets thrown around as a means of proving the label-user’s moral superiority to The Others: Those Who Like This Sort of Thing. From everything I have heard, “Hostel” probably does deserve the label.

    On the other hand, I take issue with the kneejerk idea that violent movies are inherently bad, or only excusable if they are very plainly fantasy, or very plainly indictments of violence.

    In, say: Nightmare on Elm Street; or the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; or Passion of the Christ (which, pace Scott’s friend, should be nicknamed “The Jesus Spaghtti Western”, or “For a Few Scourings More” or something like that); the violence isn’t that specifically indicted because it’s linked to broader pathologies-a corrupt social order and a disbelief in the supernatural in Nightmare; endlessly repeating cycles of egotism, distrust and greed in GBU; the fallen human race’s unlimited capacity for screwups and need of redemption in TPOTC (something that struck me at the time was how most would-be good deeds, from Veronica’s to Pilate’s, just seem to make the situation worse).

    As far as the craft question, we’re back to Dorothy Sayers’s insistence that the very first requirement Christianity makes of a carpenter is that he make good tables. I think she’s right, and incidentally that the craft, the process of making a film competently, really went downhill in the seventies with the collapse of the studio system and the rise of five billlion lone gunman auteurs more interested in being Different and being Heard than in being good craftsmen. We’re still recovering from that period in this country-there’s a reason principal photography on most major genre/period films (from the original Star Wars down to King Kong and Narnia) seems to go on anywhere but in Hollywood: that kind of film demands craft first and foremost.

    I guess that’s why I am not at all convinced that the Highbrow Spiritual Classic Du Jour (Bresson, Serious Bergman-not to be confused with that black comedy about Don Juan of his nobody but me and my brothers ever seems to’ve seen) are better role models for the aspiring Christian filmmaker than genre directors like Terence Fisher or Gianfranco Parolini (to take two who left the business of being brilliant DPs to brilliant DPs like Jack Asher and Sandro Mancori; there’s alot of beloved cult directors who were little more than really, really good DPs who aren’t that good at telling a yarn or making it interesting). Learn the craft, learn how to make an entertaining PG/PG-13-rated movie where evil is punished and good rewarded, and *then* you can tackle the big, ambiguous questions and maybe not put us knuckle-draggers to sleep in the process.


  • Mike Harris Stone

    Peter T Chattaway wrote:

    But isn’t God’s statement, itself, a proposition? :)

    Well, it’s definitely language. :)

    My concern is that we tend to see proposition itself as Truth. The truth, the goodness, about God’s creation is in the things themselves, not just in the words. (What words are themselves is a whole other discussion!)

    My concern about “content” as a separate aspect of film is related. It seems to me that the content of a film is incarnate in ALL the aspects of a film and also how the film relates to the culture it’s from and to the history of film as well. Then again, maybe I’m conflating “content” and “meaning”!

    It’s clear that the “meaning” of a film like “Hostel” needs to be understood in terms of the context of it’s genre, which is Horror, and the place of that genre within our culture. I suspect it’s about much more than simply gore, just as “The Passion” was about more than gore.

    That said, I don’t think I want to see “Hostel”, based on the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes and appreciate Jeff’s flagging the warnings from others that know more about it.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    John Herreid wrote:

    Hm. I was pretty disappointed with the Kill Bill movies, mainly because Tarantino had demonstrated with Jackie Brown that he was capable of making a more adult film with adult themes.

    Interestingly, Jackie Brown is the only Tarantino film I have never had an urge to see a second time — well, except for Four Rooms. And until a friend gave me the CD a few months ago, it was the only Tarantino film for which I did not have the soundtrack. (Yes, I do have Four Rooms — I used to love Combustible Edison!)

    Once art moves from being something that can be appreciated and understood (at least on a surface level) by all people, and into a realm where the only people who “understand” it are the intelligensia, it ceases to be art for the masses.

    And this is a problem … because? … for who?

    Did not Jesus tell parables to confound the masses?

    JSB wrote:

    And so while I can truly appreciate the dazzling technique of “Pulp Fiction,” I cannot excuse its “stance,” which for me gets sucked into a black hole of moral waste.

    Huh. Whereas I see in it a triptych of stories about second chances. Indeed, Kill Bill is fundamentally a story about second chances, too — except that, where Marcellus presumably let Jules go, Bill did not let go of The Bride.

    Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

    If we need to watch other people in excruciating suffering in order to feel something ourselves, that says more about ourselves than it does about the movies that provide that electroshock.

    Exactly. Which means that films should not be judged based merely on what any given individual claims to get out of them, whether pro or con.

    Mike Harris Stone wrote:

    God says everything He made is good simply because it is…good. It’s not because there is some deep propositonal meaning buried in it.

    But isn’t God’s statement, itself, a proposition? :)

  • David Smedberg

    Mike Harris Stone,

    Yes, it does make a lot of sense. Thank you for a wonderful and insightful post.

  • wild man

    Amen ,Charlie!

  • Charlie

    Going by the reviews of those who have seen Hostel and the studio information, it seems to be an orgiastic celebration of cruelty and sadism with no greater intentions than to push the envelope of dehumanization on film.

    Even if it turns out to be a very artfully made blood orgy, and even if it has some laudable sub-text about the horrors of human suffering, I will still regret that it has been made and that people are seeing it. Because, it will inevitably set the bar of what is acceptable even lower. And, it will encourage those who already scoff at the idea that life is sacred to sink deeper into their delusions.

  • Mike Harris Stone

    This is a really interesting discussion. I agree with Scott about the “Tyranny of Content” thing.

    I think the problem really is how we define “meaning”.

    As a culture, I think we’re very influenced by the Enlightment, etc. to understand meaning as proposition. i.e. as something that can be expressed in a sentence, something separate from the thing itself. As Scott points out by bringing in the Creation, this kind of propositional meaning simply doesn’t exist behind all of creation and certainly doesn’t exist in Genesis. God says everything He made is good simply because it is…good. It’s not because there is some deep propositonal meaning buried in it.

    Applying this to film, in film, goodness or excellence is found in how ALL the aspects of it cohere –you cannot really separate style from content because the style is an integral part of the meaning one experiences from the film.

    To put it a different way, art “incarnates” truth, it turns it into a thing you can experience. It’s not simply primarily a proposition to think about. A great film, IMHO, has layers and layers of meaning. The more you experience it, the more you see is there.

    Does this make any sense?

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    No time to go into depth here… it’s a busy day…

    But let me say, before it’s too late, that The Coen Brothers are some of my favorite filmmakers, and not just for their style, but for their content. “Intolerable Cruelty” was sorely underrated. It was a wickedly clever film with a strong, true center. “Barton Fink,” my favorite Coen Brothers films, is their greatest work of art. “Fargo” is a strong piece of comedy and storytelling, and I love it dearly, but every time I watch “Barton Fink” I get more out of it… and “Raising Arizona” isn’t empty either, nor is “The Big Lebowksi” or “The Hudsucker Proxy,” for that matter. I’m sure someone else will jump in to praise “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” any moment now…

    But this is a tangent.

    I’m stuck somewhere between Scott and Nate on these issues. Yes, form is as important… in some ways more important… than content, because it ushers us into an EXPERIENCE rather than boxing things up into deliverable “messages.” But you’ve got to ask yourself… as powerfully designed as this experience is, what am I experiencing?

    As C.S. Lewis shows us over and over again, the enemy’s method is to take lies and package them as beauty and truth. There are a lot of polished, pristinely crafted daggers out there that are still designed to be daggers, sending us back out into the street bleeding… and glad of it.

    One of the strengths of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is that it sends us out working on issues of discernment. I overheard other viewers saying, “I thought I was going to come out talking about which parts where the grossest and scariest, but it was better than that.” Thanks goodness.

    A friend of mine came out of “Reservoir Dogs” loving it because the torture scene made him feel “more alive” than he’d felt in years.

    If we need to watch other people in excruciating suffering in order to feel something ourselves, that says more about ourselves than it does about the movies that provide that electroshock. If the suffering of others is what makes us feel alive, then we’ll seek greater and greater opportunities to indulge in the suffering of others… and how can that be healthy?

  • John Herreid

    Scott: I didn’t mean to knock all modern art. I do love Picasso (I have reproductions of some of his stuff on my walls, while I have no Raphael paintings in the house). But painters of Pollock and his ilk have always seemed to be part of a big problem in what modern art has become. Once art moves from being something that can be appreciated and understood (at least on a surface level) by all people, and into a realm where the only people who “understand” it are the intelligensia, it ceases to be art for the masses.

    There’s tons of mediocre art from the Renaissance up to today. But I think all great art does include content as well as form. For example, “Guernica” is a masterpiece, but without the content… I doubt if it would remain in the mind. Even though I know I’ve seen them dozens of times, I can’t remember or have any emotional connection to Pollock or any of his fellow abstract expressionist painters.

    I’ve been in art school on and off for several years, and the one thing that has stood out is how the abstract expressionist movement all but killed off traditional art training. Despite the fact that most painters (including Pollock) learned the rules before they broke them, most modern artists never learned the rules at all, and so flounder about taking cues from whatever art critic happens to be the current dictator of taste.

    Simply following the rules of composition, form, and content does make for pretty but boring art, but unless an artist has learned those rules they can’t know how to break them in a unique way, as Lautrec, Picasso, Sargent and other greats did.

    I’m sure the same holds for filmmaking. I doubt that any director made a great film without first learning how to frame a shot, how to use narrative, or storyboard a scene. But after learning those rules and traditional methods, breaking the rules have led to some stunning works of cinematic art.

    Anyhow. I’ll shut up now.

  • JSB

    What a great discussion. Many good points. I like Scott’s phrase about “the tyranny of content over form” as being a particularly (fundamentalist) Christian bugaboo. It’s definitely something we need to loosen up about.

    OTOH, there is something to be said for critiquing content when it comes to narrative film, because it’s not really like a flower, which can be appreciated “for what it is.” A narrative takes a stance. It reflects theme. Contentless narrative is probably impossible (in trying to stay “contentless” it would, in essence, be making a statement about THAT).

    And so while I can truly appreciate the dazzling technique of “Pulp Fiction,” I cannot excuse its “stance,” which for me gets sucked into a black hole of moral waste. I love the technique of the Coen Bros., but most of their films fall flat as narrative, comedy or drama. Their one great film, “Fargo,” succeeds because their technique stayed out of the way of a truly gripping morality tale.

    I do not plan to see “Hostel.” It is, to my mind, just shy of a snuff film. Would anyone here go see a snuff film because of its dazzling camera work?

    Narrative film, it seems to me, can either elevate or deflate. That doesn’t mean it has to be a bed of roses. Scott’s own film is an example of this. If it stirs the audience to contemplation of higher things, it elevates.

    But pornography, by definition, spins the soul downward. That’s true whether the porn is brilliantly shot or not.

    So, in the end, a more nuanced, yet still vital, Christian critique based on content seems to me a valid position to take. We OUGHT to ask of a film the same question Gordon Gekko asks Bud Fox in “Wall Street” (one of my favorite Faustian tales)—“So, why am I listening to you?”

  • Nate

    Thanks for your generous response, Scott! Didn’t mean to make you bristle. :)

    For better or for worse, it seems that people are naturally compelled—perhaps for their own comfort—to categorize, canonize, or pass judgment on every piece of art they encounter. Hence the endless amount of “best of” polls and “top ten” lists that crop up every year. While I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this inclination, I wholeheartedly agree with you that it would be foolish to reject certain artists wholesale if they do not immediately gratify this innate desire for content (whatever one’s definition of content may be). But you can at least appreciate this dogged quest for meaning in every area of creation, right? Surely you can’t be condemning that!

    Anyway, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say with unequivocal certitude that Raphael is better than Pollock or Picasso. I can give you reasons why I tend to prefer one to the other, but the conversation wouldn’t go much further than that. That’s why I put “better” in quotation marks.

    As for your proposal to have the church recognize “the deep mystery and eternal aesthetic value in the chaotic design of God’s physical creation”—I’m all for it! Though I would kindly ask that you grant me a little more time to consider the second half of your sentence (“which was made without the imprint of substantial context or meaning”) more closely.

    At any rate, it looks like I’ll be spending a lot more time in museums from now on. What fun!

  • Martin

    There’s a roomful of huge Raphaels in the Louvre, commissioned by the Borgias, that look pretty stale next to some of the Picassos one can also see in Paris. To me, Raphael looks mannered next to Caravaggio or Rembrandt, let alone Picasso.

    But what I meant to say was that not every Picasso work is devoid of content (Massacre in Korea, Guernica) and often the form is the content (Les demoiselles d’Avignon). When Picasso sculpted a very recognizable bull’s head out of a bicycle seat and handlebars, he was saying something important about the way form in nature influences form in human endeavors, even when we’re not aware of it.

    I hope it wasn’t anyone’s intent to compare Picasso to Hostel. I have a personal preference for content over style in films, but that doesn’t mean that content-oriented films are objectively better than style-oriented ones.

  • Scott Derrickson

    Hey Nate, nice suprise to run into you here.

    While I make no critique of content in art (which is very important to me as an artist), I really bristle at your and John’s declaration that Raphael is better than Pollock and Picasso because of the layers of meaningful content that can be extracted from his work.

    To stand before a Pollock painting and only appreciate it for it’s cultural importance and place in art history — well, that’s to miss Pollock completely.

    And to consider Picasso — an unparalleled master of form — as secondary to Raphael for the reasons stated here is demonstrative of what I see as the Christian church’s fundamental flaw with respect to the creation and appreciation of art: the unrelenting tyranny of content over form.

    Look at God’s creative work in nature — what is the content or meaning of the various forms of flowers and fishes? What is the context of a sunrise? These things are beautiful in form, craft, and style, without layers and layers of ascribed meaning. Is Raphael a greater artist than God? God has certainly created meaning in man and his interaction with man, but I truly believe that He did not print the gospel — or any other idea for that matter — into the bark of trees or into the sides of mountains because those forms are perfect creations of unfathomable value without any direct contextual meaning beyond their aesthetic reflection of their master Creator.

    The secular world has rebelled against this tyranny of content over form by producing artists like Pollock and Picasso, and the church has yet to really understand the value of the rebellion. We have yet to see that there is something distinctively Christian in it. We have yet to recognize the deep mystery and eternal aesthetic value in the chaotic design of God’s physical creation, which was made without the imprint of substantial context and meaning. God the artist (dare I say, like Pollock and Picasso), thought it best to leave that out.

  • Nate

    I used to be averse to the idea of art for art’s sake, but now I am willing to accept that there is pleasure to be had even in the most self-contained aesthetic exercises, as long as they don’t go out of their way to be malignant, loathsome, or obnoxious (something I fear Hostel might do, though I’m probably too chicken to find out). Even so, Quentin Tarantino’s show-offy histrionics—which frequently bow down to what Manohla Dargis once called “a vague taxonomy of cool”—seem to pale in comparison with those rare instances where theme and technique meet on the highest level of film art (e.g., The Passion of Joan of Arc, Ikiru). Given this distinction, I have no problem saying that Raphael is “better” than Picasso, although there’s certainly enough room in this world for both kinds of artists—something I learned from you, Scott, and from other teachers of a similar mind.

  • John Herreid

    Hm. I was pretty disappointed with the Kill Bill movies, mainly because Tarantino had demonstrated with Jackie Brown that he was capable of making a more adult film with adult themes. I’ve seen Kill Bill three times, and each time I’ve thought again that it’s very adolescent in its treatment of characters and the writing.

    As far as art like Raphael, Pollock, and Picasso… well, I can look at a Raphael for hours and see more and more meaning in it. With a painting by Pollock, I can see the cultural importance–he broke the rules binding art at the time and helped usher in a new era of artistic style. But since those rules have been broken for so many years now, the painting itself (to me) really is meaningless because the context is no longer there. I think a lot of modern filmmaking will fall into that same category in time.

    Hopefully I don’t seem like a pretentious ass when I say that.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>I guess that’s just it. Kill Bill does have remarkable form and style, but ultimately it’s an empty film.<<

    Hoo, boy, I disagree with that comment. Perhaps it seemed empty to you, but I go back again and again because I find a lot going on in it (especially Part 2.)

    >>If a film is going to become a classic, it has to have some sort of content or story that will appeal to viewers in ten years rather than just being a landmark in special effects or fight choreography.<<

    Well, yes and no. There’s a lot more to the style and form of Kill Bill than special effects and fight choreography. In both Kill Bill AND Sin City, there are ideas about form, color, pace, editing, and style that will influence other filmmakers for years to come. I agree that Sin City as a story is relatively empty, and I personally have no desire to see it again because, for all the excitment of its new ideas, it employed those ideas to serve up things that made me rather nauseous. But again, I find a lot to appreciate and consider in Kill Bill. The last half hour especially leaves me a bit delirious with the fusion of music and imagery.

    My concern with Hostel is that it may indeed be what it appears to be, something that exists primarily to disgust, and to appeal to those who have an unhealthy appetite for disgust.
    Like Scott, I don’t review films I haven’t seen. At the same time, I don’t feel I should see EVERYTHING for myself, or else I would waste far more time than I already do. (That’s why Looking Closer rarely hands out a bad grade. I’ve worked to learn which resources and critics are relatively reliable on these issues.) And so when I start finding myself convinced that I should steer clear of something, I feel a bit obliged to send others to those same reliable sources.

  • Scott Derrickson

    I agree with you, Peter, that Tarantino’s films tend to be much more substantial in content than Rodgriguez’s, but the point I was making is that craft and style can be just as praiseworthy as content, and that if content can justify extreme violence, then so can form and style. And I thoroughly disagree with the contention that great content must accompany great style to create classic cinema. I don’t think that Frank Capra (not much of a stylist) made greater films than Tarantino (very much a stylist), just as I don’t think that the renaissance painter Raphael made greater paintings than the modern Jackson Pollock. What I rebel against is the idea that craft, form, and style are of lesser importance than content when it comes to art, or that both must be present to make something truly great. I, for one, loved “Sin City”, and while it may be true that the film “looks cool but offers nothing of any lasting spiritual benefit,” I think the same can be said of Picasso’s paintings.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Well, I for one found Kill Bill emotionally and intellectually engaging all three times that I saw it. (And on the last two occasions that I saw it, I watched the full four-hour story more-or-less in one sitting.) (I say “more-or-less” because, on one occasion, I actually watched Vol. 1 on video and then dashed down to the theatre to watch Vol. 2 no more than 20 minutes later. But on the other occasion, I had a full-fledged Kill Bill DVD marathon with my wife and a couple of our friends.) (Okay, no more footnotes on that point.)

    It is an interesting question where the line could or should be drawn between “form” and “content”. I find myself thinking of the scene in Vol. 2 where Bill and the Bride talk outside the church. It’s a fantastic scene, and one that owes its power as much to its form as to its content. In some ways, the scene is a recycling of genre tropes (e.g. Uma Thurman being framed in the doorway brings to mind a similar shot of John Wayne at the end of The Searchers). And yet, the scene also owes much of its power to the script and the performances — and, because of the flashback structure, to our knowledge of what lies in the future for these particular characters.

    As for the Rodriguez connection, to quote my review of Sin City, “Tarantino, perhaps despite himself, turns his pulp source materials into genuine works of art that pose interesting moral and spiritual questions, but Rodriguez, more often than not, is content to toss off films that look cool but offer nothing of any lasting spiritual benefit.”

  • John Herreid

    Scott: I guess that’s just it. Kill Bill does have remarkable form and style, but ultimately it’s an empty film. If a film is going to become a classic, it has to have some sort of content or story that will appeal to viewers in ten years rather than just being a landmark in special effects or fight choreography.

    I think a lot of modern movie makers become so obsessed with stylistic detail that they forget what makes a movie great. For instance, Robert Rodriguez–an extremely talented director who has, like Tarantino, become so preoccupied with putting memorable images on the screen that he forgets to engage the viewer on an emotional or intellectual level.

  • Scott Derrickson

    I haven’t seen “Hostel” yet either, and as a rule of thumb I try not to form opinions about films I haven’t seen. What’s interesting about your post, though, is your defense of Mel Gibson “ramping up the violent content” because the “modern viewer is so densitized…” You say Gibson was justified because the extreme violence he portrayed was serving a higher spiritual ambition. I think Tarantino also had a higher ambition with “Kill Bill” — but his higher intention was aesthetic, not thematic or spiritual. If Gibson can push the boundries of violence to elevate our Christian history, why can’t Tarantino push the boundries of violence to elevate our Cinema history? “Kill Bill” was an aesthetic celebration of specific movie genres — its justification is not remarkable content, but remarkable form and style.

  • John Herreid

    Wasp Jerky: The Passion of the Christ wasn’t made as a gore flick. The reason it was so bloody and gruesome was because the modern viewer is so desensitized to violence that Gibson assumed that only by ramping up the violent content would it make an impact on the audience as to what kind of sacrifice Jesus really made. It might have been a poor choice (I personally think it worked) but it’s profoundly different than the violence in a horror flick like Hostel.

    I haven’t seen Hostel, but I have seen similar films. I don’t like them. Violence in movies has to have a context to it in order to have a moral value. Gore for the sake of gore, just so a group of frat-boy types can hoot over the gruesomeness, is something I’ve never understood or liked.

    That was my problem with the Kill Bill movies. Aside from the misogyny of the films (yes, the Bride gets her revenge, but like the exploitation films of the 70’s that inspired Tarantino, the bulk of the movie is watching beautiful women being tortured, beaten, raped, shot, or maimed) the graphically stylized gore is supposed to be amusing or fun.

    I’m supposing that Hostel probably takes a similar line, judging from the reviews I’ve read. So I have no desire to see it.

  • Scott Derrickson

    Or as my non-Christian, anti-torture-in-cinema friend calls it: “The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre”

  • Wasp Jerky

    Well, then there’s that Passion of the Christ movie.