After the flesh-eating horror of ‘Cabin Fever’, writer-director Eli Roth brings us a grisly tale of abduction and torture. Laced with an unsettling humour that vacillates between bleak and black, this is another low-budget, high-concept horror movie. Sadly, as with Roth’s promising but flawed debut feature, its central conceit is more compelling than what ended up on screen. Together with their crazy Icelandic pal Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), American backpackers Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) are lured to a small Slovakian town by the promise of compliant Euro babes. The signs are promising: the hostel is packed with semi-naked women, and they hook up with Natalya (Barbara Nedeljáková) and her sexy pal Svetlana (Jana Kaderabková). But a visit to the torture museum turns out to be a trailer for the main horror feature, in which they will star. Soon after, Oli and Josh go missing, and Paxton finds himself manacled to a chair in an abandoned factory.
There are two contradictory impulses here: a visceral, nightmarish genre movie with some spurious basis in a post-war Balkan reality; and a more knowing satire about crass, xenophobic Americans abroad getting their just desserts. But where does this leave the audience when Josh is getting his Achilles tendons slashed with a scalpel? Too often, Roth’s fanboy enthusiasm runs away with him, the brilliantly staged charnel-house horror tipping over into adolescent gross-out humour. Also, despite a tighter, Quentin Tarantino-vetted script, there is no real sense of escalating terror: it’s just one damn blow-torching after another.