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HostelI caught a work-in-progress print of this film at the Toronto film festival, and of all the films I saw there - including some highly anticipated international "art" films - this was the most memorable, haunting, and even artful film.

In a Q+A after the film, director Eli Roth said that he had the films "Wicker Man" and "Audition" in mind when he made "Hostel." Those influences really shine through. Add more than a dash of Roeg's "Don't Look Now" - as well as, of course, "Cabin Fever" - and you've got a good idea of the caliber of experience you're in store for.

Here Roth takes some all-American characters akin to those of "Cabin Fever" and sends them not to woods, but to the uber-mysterious (for Americans) landscape of Eastern Europe. As in "Cabin Fever," these cocky characters find themselves, possibly for the first time in their lives, in a situation through which their wealth and privilege can't help them navigate. To say more about the plot would give too much away, but suffice it to say that you're in for a treat... as with Miike's "Audition," this film sets you up for a sucker punch... even though you know you're in for some psychological terror, the moment both films reveal themselves to be thrillers is quite a shock.

The version I saw was chock-full of transgressive sex and violence that, while extreme (especially by U.S. standards), was also very integral to the viewing experience. Roth mentioned, with some trepidation, that he was just about to take his film to the rating board. It's probably too much to ask, but it would be extremely brave of his distributor (Screen Gems, I think) to release the film uncut as an NC-17. In any case, I'm extremely excited to see this film again both in the theater and on DVD, both for enjoyment and as a case study in how much a film of this nature will change from its first cut to the theater and then again to home video.

I can't recommend this one enough. I watch a lot of films, and few have grabbed me to this degree in the last few years. It gets better and better as you view it, but becomes even richer as you reflect on it afterwards.

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