Hostel Part II Review
The second to last paragraph of this review contains major plot spoilers.
In Eli Roth's 2006 film Hostel, three young backpackers on a pussy-chasing tour of Europe stopped at the wrong hostel in the wrong Slovakian village. They were taken prisoner by a gang of organised criminals, whose speciality was supplying young, attractive murder victims to rich psychopaths.
Hostel has become synonymous with the new horror subgenre known as "torture porn". I'm not sure that's fair. The movie certainly pushed boundaries in terms of what was acceptable in mass-market horror films (a girl's eye pulled out of its socket with pliers). Perhaps more pertinently, its box office success encouraged the recent rash of horror films emphasising sadism. However, there's more to Hostel than eye-pulling sadism.
It's an extremely effective piece of film-making, a horror film that actually horrifies. It uses sadism as a theme rather than just presenting it for our entertainment as Paradise Lost and Captivity do. The story raises questions about the darker side of human nature. Would people really pay to do the things the rich sadists in the film do? That the answer is almost certainly yes adds to its impact.
Hostel Part II by contrast is exactly what I expected when I went to see the first film, feeling a mixture of mild dread and morbid curiosity. It's a pointless, cynical, uninvolving film whose only real selling point is its nastiness. Basically it's Hostel Part I with the sexes of the protagonists changed, a bit more focus on the bad guys and the gore level turned up to eleven. It's competently made, here and there are some interesting elements and there's the occasional good scene but there's not enough to distinguish it from the torture porn competition.
After opening badly with a prologue that descends to the level of a cheap slasher film, Hostel Part II introduces us to three more backpackers who are destined to end up in the Slovakian slaughterhouse. This time they're girls: serious Beth (Lauren German), slutty Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and comic-relief geek Lorna (Heather Matarazzo). The film makes its second wrong step by having an obvious heroine, something the first Hostel cleverly avoided.
Back in Slovakia, we're introduced once again to the organisation's sexy bait, its hulking Slavic henchmen and the feral children from the village. Once again the backpackers explore and party and disappear one by one. Once again they end up in the dungeons of an out-of-town factory, where the wealthy and depraved are waiting in jumpsuits and aprons to end their lives. Been there, seen that, cared a lot more the first time.
The one interesting wrinkle the sequel adds is a parallel subplot involving Stuart (Roger Bart) and Todd (Richard Burgi), a pair of middle-American suburbanites who have successfully bid on the internet to take the lives of two of the girls. They're old high school buddies looking for thrills who have graduated from Far-Eastern whorehouses to homicide. One of them is bullish about his first murder while his friend has doubts. This we haven't seen before and the film comes to life in Stuart and Todd's scenes. I only wish they'd been given more than just a subplot. If Eli Roth had found a way to make Hostel Part II all about the torturers, he might really have had something.
Instead, the main plot proceeds in much the same way as the first film's, only without the dread, the horror or any real emotional involvement at all, since we know what's coming and the girls aren't well drawn or especially sympathetic. We're kept at arm's length from their suffering. Unlike the original Hostel (in my opinion at least), the sequel does qualify as "torture porn" in the sense that we're just observing torture, with little feeling for the victims.
The climax is a particular letdown after the original's powerful, cathartic scenes of escape and revenge. Roth was very careful to make Paxton's (Jay Hernandez) actions just about credible. What happens in the climactic scenes of Hostel Part II is absurd. I didn't believe what Beth did, what Stuart did and especially what the owner of the organisation did. Is he a complete moron? The ending is also terribly abrupt.
Predictably, Roth has upped the ante on the horror and gore. On these counts, Hostel Part II easily tops not only Hostel Part I but the Saw sequels and all the other extreme horror flicks. This is about as nasty as it gets. Yet here's the strange thing: at the same time, Hostel Part II's violence is less upsetting than that of many of its rivals, including its predecessor. It goes so far over the top, it pulls you out of the film.
Watch out now for those spoilers (and sensitive readers also beware):
Here are the three "highlights" of Hostel Part II. As before, the scenes are few and mostly confined to the last half hour but it's the content, not the quantity. The first is an outrageously sadistic murder scene inspired by the legend of Countess Bathory, in which a screaming, naked girl is hung upside down and sliced to death with a scythe by a naked, older woman who stands below her and bathes in her blood. The girl's torso is slashed until she's half-dead, then her throat is slit. The second is a refined-looking cannibal carving strips of flesh out of a dying boy's legs and groin and eating them. It's not too long ago that The Silence Of The Lambs was considered extreme for just alluding to cannibalism. The third is the castration of a man tied up in a chair. We see his cock hanging out of his pants with a knife pressed to it. His genitals are then cut off and, while the man howls and bleeds to death, the bloody mess is picked up and thrown to a dog, which eats them. This might be a homage to Caligula.
Yes, you see all these things in great detail and it's simply too much. The fates of the victims in the original Hostel had a ring of horrible believability that inspired sympathy and horror. It's easy to imagine being tied to a chair and tortured with sharp tools. But being strung up over a bath and exsanguinated by a naked woman? This isn't anyone's personal fear brought to life, it's just Eli Roth trying too hard to be shocking and it doesn't work.