Off-Season Reviews: Hostel: Part II (2007)
For April’s second torture porno-riffic feature we go back to the source, with Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II. The original Hostel brought torture porn to the mainstream, with Roth crafting a film where dudes could get the gratuitous violence they desire while their dates were able to watch frat boys get emasculated. A movie-date win/win. Unfortunately, the sequel’s flaws are apparent right from the get-go.
First off, Hostel’s biggest advantage was the surprise factor. None of the actors in it were A-, B-, even Z- listers, making everyone a potential victim. Allowing for one inspired bait-and-switch, one with the audience, who start out hating Paxton (Jay Hernandez) for being an asshole, only to find them cheering him on in the end. Only Part II a.) isn’t nearly as clever, and B.) is a sequel, so we’re already expecting a swerve.
Bijou Phillips, here as Whitney, may not be a superstar, but she is related to one. And Heather Matarrazo, as Lorna, may not be recognizable by name, but when you see her, you’ll know her. So before the movie has even really started, it’s already lost its previous advantage of anonymity.
Factor in how anyone watching will already know about the bloodhound hunting group, and their Slovakian torture factory, and Roth was faced with a steep challenge. How to shock audiences again?
With the exact same story, of course! Only this time, the victims will be female! ‘Cuz pretty girls will surely make you forget that you’ve seen this all before; back when it was still fresh, new, and original.
The idea is that the sequel deals with the other side of Elite Hunting; we’ll see what their “john’s” see. Only asking your audience to side with a group of sadistic bastards right from the start is a tall order. As confused and distressed as errant businessman Stuart (Roger Bart) is, he’s still a man who thought torturing and killing another human being a thrill worth experiencing.
Having Stuart get cold feet 10 minutes after a comical DePalma bidding sequence doesn’t make him more sympathetic, it makes him less so. No one likes the pussy-footing American who bullheadedly rushes in over his head, only to change his mind and want to be absolved later.
(Though, in hindsight, this spot-on characterization just might be one of the film’s strengths. The perfect dramatization of the Baby Boomers’ “do as I say, not as I did” mentality.)
One thing that has definitely changed between the two films are the torture sequences. Sadly, not for the better. Gone are the claustrophobic and dirty torture rooms, as Elite Hunting is now opting for giant, cavernous studios. While it’s never explained how long has transpired between the films, you’re made to believe it occurs shortly after the first. Eliminating the possibility that there’s been renovations in the interim.
The torture itself has become more elaborate. Lorna meeting her end in a scene clearly inspired by the Elizabeth Bathory legend; so much so that they named the character Mrs. Bathory (Monika Malacova). Lorna’s hung upside down, while a nude Bathory reclines in her tub; taking swipes at her victim with a scythe. While this torture is certainy not unthinkable, especially given the genre, it is out of place considering the rather gruesome, yet still low-key, deaths in the original.
Clearly time has passed between the two films though. How much is the issue. When Whitney makes an escape attempt, she’s then recaptured through an intricate series of remote-controlled sliding gates. And the room Stuart gets is decidedly smaller than Miss Bathory’s, so maybe there’s tiers of service in the organization.
The Elite Hunting organization brings up a serious missed opportunity for Roth. Rather than focusing on the two clients, the film would’ve been much more fascinating by instead looking at how Elite Hunting works. There’s a few lingering shots of the main guard (Ivan Furak) at the end, where he betrays the tedium in his eyes. You can see just how bored he’s become with policing both the victims and the johns.
Hostel: the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Edition if you will.