Hostel: Part II
In Eli Roth’s unfairly vilified Hostel (2006), young men who wanted to get their kicks by treating women as commodities got a ghastly comeuppance by … being treated as commodities. In the vicious monetary universe of Hostel, someone else always has more cash and is willing to pay for the privilege of dismantling a living human body. So when the frat boys were chained to a rusty chair and made to wait for a masked stranger to do to them whatever struck his sadistic fancy, it was Roth’s sneaky way of putting the film’s young male audience in the position of being violated, savaged, raped.
Hostel: Part II, sadly, has no such point. Roth has switched genders here, making the three unlucky college kids female — rich kid Beth (Lauren German), dorky Lorna (Heather Matarazzo), and sullen party chick Whitney (Bijou Phillips). We knew what Jay Hernandez (who reprises his role here in a brief prologue) and his two buddies had done to deserve their fates, but why are these girls being punished? For being in the wrong place at the wrong time? What, exactly, separates Hostel: Part II from fifty other female-fish-out-of-water splatter films? It’s disappointing because Roth, who certainly talks a good game, is a huge horror fan and had actually contributed something of worth to the genre. But the sequel feels like Jaws 2 to Roth’s Jaws — just when you thought it was safe to go back abroad…
Roth does try something interesting with two American businessmen, Todd (Richard Burgi) and Stuart (Roger Bart), who have “won” Beth and Whitney in an auction run by the same shadowy folks who manage the torture factory. These two are like Chad and Howard from In the Company of Men given power tools and a heaping, homicidal dose of misogynist resentment. Their storyline plays out predictably, and one of them provides the visual that Roth is hoping will be the gorehound equivalent of the frank-and-beans moment in There’s Something About Mary. (Those who’ve seen the same grindhouse flicks that Roth has — specifically, Bloodsucking Freaks — will emit a been-there-seen-that yawn.)
Without much sociopolitical subtext, we’re left looking for meaning in the carnage, like Etruscans divining by entrails. An Elizabeth Bathory wannabe bathes in the blood of a young probably-a-virgin; there’s some slapstick involving a severed head; like Takashi Miike in the first film, gore maestro Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) puts in a cameo as a refined flesh-eater. As before, most of the splatter is confined to the final third; before that, we spend a lot of time with the three girls, who are written sympathetically but with no particular insight. Roth had been around guys like the trio in the first Hostel; with these girls he’s winging it, and he fails to give them much personality aside from the usual stereotyped victims in gore flicks. It’s a switch, I guess, to have the socially awkward one — traditionally the “final girl” who perseveres and survives in films like this — be the first one to die, and in an outrageously sexually tinged manner, too. But we learn nothing about her killer, who presumably goes on to live life without the consequences of revenge.
Yes, this is Roth’s revenge flick, his Kill Bill Vol. 2, in which one lone woman turns the tables. Many questions are left unanswered, signalling not artistic ambiguity but that Roth has written himself into a corner. Hostel: Part II is neither as memorably creepy nor as painfully graphic as its predecessor, so it even disappoints as a routine horror sequel. Roth has already said pretty much everything he had to say about the Slovakian factory of death; he never meant there to be a follow-up, and it shows. Roth has talent and enthusiasm to burn, and I’ll be interested in what he does next, but maybe he should distance himself from people who not only don’t discourage him from rehashing himself, but actively encourage it.