Saturday, 9 June 2007

Review: Hostel: Part II

Okay, I know that this is primarily a TV blog, but no matter what the size of the screen, we don't discriminate. With that in mind, here is a review of Hostel: Part II.


Eli Roth, the director of both Hostel films, is a sick fuck. The inside of his mind would surely be a nightmarish place to reside. While science does not yet permit us to view just what goes on in that diseased brain of his, his films afford us a peek at his most nihilistic, basest desires and fantasies and it is not a pretty place at all.

With hindsight, Roth's feature debut, 2003's Cabin Fever seems tame now, despite the lashings of outlandish gore on display in the flesh-eating virus splatterfest. The Hostel films are where Roth has really cut loose with the head-wrong "torture porn" stylings, but to be honest, the commercial success of the original Hostel says more about the audience who lap up every slash of a tendon, every eyeball being cut out than it does about Roth himself.

I didn't enjoy (frankly, who could have?) the first Hostel film one bit. I found it to be a soulless, relentless nasty, joyless piece of snuff and this isn't because I'm some reactionary, Daily Mail-reading, ban this sick filth merchant. On the contrary, I like my gore, but the numbing effect of the bloodletting (inventive though some of it was), coupled with the lack of any emotional investment in the victims (they had it coming), left an unpleasant taste in my mouth, so it was with one part trepidation and two parts morbid curiosity that I approached the sequel.

I'm pleased to say that Hostel: Part II is a more successful, altogether more enjoyable and satisfying movie than its progenitor. Starting things off with one of the creepiest credits sequences I've seen in quite some time, with the torture resort's furnace operator ritually dispensing of recent victims' artefacts (passports, driver's licences, clothes etc), we then get to find out just what became of the original's 'hero', Paxton (Jay Hernandez, looking more existentially puzzled than frightened for his life). This feels like a concession to the fans of the first Hostel or aimless preamble than any kind of foreboding prologue however and the film only really starts to get interesting when we meet our heroines.

Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo, not a million miles removed from the weird kid she played in Welcome To The Dollhouse) are travelling through Europe, striving to strike some kind of balance between youthful kicks and cultural enlightenment. They happen upon a helpful stranger who suggests they make the trip to Slovakia to check out the beautiful spas they have there (in actuality, the hostel of the title).

You can probably guess what happens next. You'd be surprised however at Eli Roth's brave attempts to eschew any re-hash accusations. For starters, the victims are female this time around, but more interesting is the sub-plot - which neatly and naturally dovetails with the main story - which involves two American businessmen, Todd (Richard Burgi - bullish and cocky) and Stuart (Roger Bart - reserved and apprehensive) hooking up with the elite hunting cabal to illegally and vicariously indulge their fantasies of killing their wives.

In showing the other side of the original's story in an unjudgemental fashion, Roth adds a new depth to the ensuing thrills and spills. TV stalwarts Burgi and Bart both relish their roles, veering wildly between underplaying and shameless hamming as the plot dictates. Of the female leads, Lauren German (previously seen in the Texas Chainsaw remake) treats the scream queen role with a winning gravitas, while Matarazzo plays it kooky without descending into annoyance. It's Bijou Phillips who impresses most however, bringing naturalism and light-and-shade to what could have easily been just another 'silly bitch' role, much like she did in Larry Clark's Bully.

BUT (the caps are necessary, as it's a big but), despite the fact that it's a leap forward from the first Hostel film, you will still feel a little dirty afterwards. There's still the overriding feeling of "should I be watching this?". It's obvious that this is Roth's intention - to make the audience hate themselves for enjoying this - but does that make it something of a noble cause? Not really, but in scenes like the chilling round-the-world email bidding war for the girls and the showdown between the hunting club president and the bubblegum gang from the first film, Roth shows a deft touch and sensitivity that he wilfully and gleefully negates with his tendency towards snuff-like set-pieces.

When Roth shows a bit of restraint, it's clear that he's starting to mature as a director, but for now, we have to counterbalance that growth with the juvenilia we've come to expect from him. Here's to Roth moving out of the Hostel and into the big leagues. Whether I'd want him to bring his twisted brain with him however, I'm not all too sure.

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