Film Reviews

Hostel: Part II Eli Roth

Rating - 6/10

Some may say that Eli Roth's sin is lust; I'm going to bank on gluttony. Why else would he come back to this horror franchise except to bathe in the money (and gore) that the first one (some same despicably, I say seductively) revelled in? No, this prolific exercise in what some call "torture porn" isn't Roth's desires for torture and porn, just to see how far he can push the boundaries of what can be shown on the silver screen. The irony is, Hostel was pretty tame to begin with. Films before it, stretching all the way back to when Halloween was a horrifying and disgustingly gory film, have used gore to a more excessive state, but more eloquently, or eloquently blunt. Roth lacks both these aspects, but it's this giddy sense of moremoremore that made his debut Cabin Fever a camp classic, and what made Hostel more than what it is.

As it stands, Hostel: Part II is the lesser of two evils, but Roth obviously doesn't think so. He took the excessive porn set-up of Hostel's first half and plants it firmly into the gorier aspect of the second, combining them together to make his sequel. It's this choice of filmmaking, the director's idea of progressing or "doing it bigger" that has the critics and the average naysayer all riled up (this is where the spoilers come in); in one of the film's defining moments, a naked American girl is suspended upside down above a bathtub while a foreign women, also shown nude, slowly draws blood and bathes in it. It's not particularly gory or even offensive from a purely neutral stance (Roth skimps out on successful character development), but this "torture porn," a lustful glance into what some say are Roth's teenage fantasies, is sickening and degrading, a pseudo-misogynistic act of mutilation.

Up to this point, the film is by the numbers, specifically Hostel's

numbers. Roth takes the film's name literally and makes Hostel... but with girls, taking the naïve but charming frat boys of that film and replacing them with female caricatures: the naïve, geeky virgin, Lorna (Heather Matarazzo); the smutty blonde, Whitney (Bijou Phillips); and the level-headed and smart pack leader, Beth (Lauren German). On their way to Prague, the girls are talked into heading to the very same hostel; the girls-cum-victims left to be picked up and picked off by a number of malicious foreigners. But Hostel and Hostel II comparisons are purely superficial, as this sequel barely matches the wit or smarts of its predecessor, and that film wasn't all that smart to begin with.

For starters, gone is the unsettling, lost-in-translation aspect that gave Hostel a profound underlining. This fear of foreigners that made the random acts of killings bleak and all too realistic; they're never justified, but they seem plausible. Here, all but one of the girls are left in the hands of two American men, who Roth ingeniously (or cripplingly) follows through their initial bidding, trip to Slovakia, and finally their killing. Here, Roth presents the business of killing as the men's seeming "rite of passage." Roth never sympathizes with them, but he digs deep into the underbelly of what a man feels he must do to be a man, the sort of primal instinct that causes the weaker of the two men and the stronger to switch roles as they get to work. This change in gender for the victims gives a seemingly sexist subtext that could have crippled Roth's vision from the beginning, but he smartly keeps the girls strong if they are capable of doing so, only letting up hope when the situation is bigger than reasonable. His tongue-in-cheek nature also gives the film a certain level of girl power, involving the film's true defining moment, in gore and in subtext. (You'll know it when you see it.)

Roth also taps into the set of mind of someone who would want to watch "torture porn" as a form of pleasure. During the film's infamous scene in the bathtub, the woman stares in almost ecstasy at the body presented to her, locking her gaze, pupils dilated, as she takes her first swing. It's startling, this act of lustful aggression that makes one feel dirty. Roth doesn't try to make the scene sexy or even something worth lusting over (if anything, the females are shown at odd angles that make them unflattering, as opposed to any shot showing the innocent victims in swimsuits), but he hits the unnerving centre of the sick fantasy some accuse him of possessing. What Roth is really after is shocking his audiences, not fulfilling his own dark, sick fantasies, and he has succeeded, but only with those that are quick to judge and get offended by.

That's not to say there's much to excuse; the plot is as thin as they come, seeing as there is no need for set-up past the characters themselves, and the killings, which were so gratuitous and aggravatingly slow in the predecessor are sometimes shortened down to make way for another cop-out killing, which Roth does a lot. For someone hoping to shock audiences, he pulls his punches more than he lets their imagination run wild; a young boy is shot, but instead of leaving this off screen, he zooms out to show the limp body. Emotionally, the film relies on its actors, all of whom are able to carry the film, but Roth doesn't always play fair, making a campy beginning and breezy/dark ending take away most of whatever suspense came before and after. Still, the film does what it set out to do by entertaining a set audience who came for the goods and get about half of them. If Roth is so busy censoring himself, why is everyone hoping to do the same?

Take this rating as an act of kindness towards Roth; I was entertained (the 93 minute running time feels like nothing at all, and boring wouldn't be an adjective to describe it), but I don't disagree with anyone who finds the film sickening or degrading, or pretty bad as far as actual movie merits go (its cinematography is as bleak as the original, but half as inspired or memorable). Still, the film has the making of a cult classic, being the guilty pleasure that you're more willing to say you admire than actually like, which is slightly more than one can say for the artistically better yet less entertaining Hostel (really, Roth seems to love simultaneously degrading his work while overstepping it).

I don't recommend it, but those of you who want to see it have already made up your mind. Just know that all this controversy just sets up a bigger, tamer disappointment.