Hostel: Part II
2007Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Lauren German, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips
here’s something inherently critic-proof about Eli Roth’s first two feature films in that there’s really nothing negative you can say about them that Roth doesn’t already know or address. We can complain all we want about the plot-holes and shaky logic of Cabin Fever, but the last scene of the film, surely one of the most ridiculous and unexpected endings in recent memory, lets you know that Roth never intended you to take his movie very seriously. We can criticize Hostel for reveling in teen sex romp shenanigans for an hour before getting into the proverbial meat of the story. But by placing the shift from Euro-tripe to torture-fest so late in the game, Roth can open that torture chamber door without looking back, providing the viewer with a relentless and affecting nightmare of a finale.
Now I’m not suggesting that Cabin Fever and Hostel are flawless or even great films. They merely defy traditional criticism (like any good cult film) by working entirely on their own terms with little or no frame of reference to more “reputable” cinema. This brings us to Hostel: Part II, a film that shows signs of maturity by surpassing the giddy schlock of Roth’s previous films, although it’s more like two steps forward and one step back. Hostel: Part II is scarier, gorier, and smarter than its predecessor; it’s practically the Citizen Kane of torture movies…that is until the last ten minutes. At this point Roth’s career shows its first signs of treading water; he offers up an outrageous conclusion (neither clever nor scary) that conforms to the idea of what an Eli Roth film should be instead of embracing the unpredictability that made his first two movies so maniacally enjoyable. Could the man really think of no better way to end such a terrifying and finely crafted horror movie than a hastily staged anti-climax that comes nowhere close to matching the intensity of what precedes it?
If it sounds as if I’m being especially harsh on the ending, it’s merely on account of the amazing sense of skill employed by Roth for the rest of the film. The story begins with a quick recap of the first Hostel before the audience meets Beth, Whitney, and Lorna (Lauren German, Bijou Phillips, and Heather Matarazzo), the three college-aged backpackers subjected to Roth’s European torture warehouse this time around. As in the first film, we sense naiveté and arrogance from the American travelers as Whitney and Beth freely accompany four young men into their train compartment in search of drugs and booze (torturers are hardly the only ones who pose a threat to the heroines). They escape from the ruffians and appear to find a kindred spirit in Axelle (Vera Jordanova), a gorgeous nude art model who convinces them to join her at a spa in Slovakia. This of course starts a chain of events that inevitably ends in the girls’ captivity and subsequent torture.
Other than replacing the male leads with females, what differentiates Hostel: Part II from the original is this film’s depiction of the individuals on the other side of the buzzsaw. In Hostel, the audience really only sees the torturers caught in the act, but here Roth follows the perpetrators on golf outings, into the kitchen with their families, and on morning power-jogs. Todd (Richard Burgi), a young American businessman newly involved in the torture-ring, rationalizes to his friend Stuart (a brilliantly pathetic Roger Bart) that after they commit the unspeakable act, people will view them “like the first guy you knew in high school to lose his virginity.” What’s most scary is that Todd and Stuart are just rich grownup frat-boys with so much power and money on their hands that their objectification of women has been so warped as to equate sex with torture.
But enough armchair psychiatry: the ultimate purpose of both Hostel movies is to sicken, amuse and shock the viewer with torture sequences. And let it be known that midway through the film, Eli Roth stages one of the most stomach-churning, cringe-inducing torture scenes I’ve ever seen in an American movie. The only issue here (well, other than the obvious issue for anybody who has a soul) is that the rest of the film basically consists of falling action. It reverses the structure that worked so well for Hostel and, as a result, the audience is already desensitized to almost everything Roth throws on the screen in the film’s last half-hour.
But despite the movie’s glaring structural flaws, Roth has really outdone himself in terms of texture and style. He’s clearly in love with the gothic beauty of Eastern Europe, letting his camera soak up its scenery and architecture. Roth also lingers on the little details (like the light above each torture room that turns from white to red when it becomes occupied) that serve to deepen the film’s palpable sense of terror. But in the end, right when Roth has the suspense and terror ratcheted up to a fever-pitch, the story hits a brick wall and resolves itself far too neatly and unbelievably. It’s not that I don’t recommend this movie to fans of the original. I’m just lamenting the fact that the film isn’t nearly what it could have been. And no amount of snarky self-awareness on the director’s behalf (and that includes the film’s humorous Cabin Fever-echoing epilogue) can keep Hostel: Part II from being anything more than another “almost-great” movie by Eli Roth. Anyone looking for his masterpiece will just have to wait for Thanksgiving.
Hostel: Part II is currently in wide release.
By: David Holmes
Published on: 2007-06-19