Is there a more divisive director working today than Eli Roth? Okay, maybe David Lynch. But still, he was tagged as the savior of modern horror after 2002’s Cabin Fever hit the festival circuit. While the film didn’t completely work, ingenuity could be detected. 2005’s Hostel marked the start of the “torture porn” industry as we know it. Roth seems encouraged by his notoriety, and God knows he has befriended the right people (Quentin Tarantino, especially, who backs everything he does). I was much kinder to Hostel than most (I gave it a C) mainly because the story was, and still is, deeply unsettling to me. Why? Because it doesn’t escape the realm of possibility like most modern horror does. If you can imagine a worse fate than being chained to a chair as the plaything for a rich man or woman to torture and kill, let me know.
Hostel: Part II picks up right where the first left off, but the loose ends are quickly tied up. We meet three young women studying abroad: Rich and cool Beth (Lauren German), party girl Whitney (Bijou Phillips), and mousy bookworm Lorna (Heather Matarazzo). The three are planning to take a train ride to Prague, but their newest buddy, Axelle (Vera Jordanova), convinces them to change their destination and head to the relaxing hot springs of Slovakia. Before you know it they’re staying in the same hostel as the young men from the first installment, which is a breeding ground of sorts for the Elite Hunting Company, who tracks down the victims for their wealthy clients.
Rather than focus solely on the plights of the women, Roth delves deeper and follows two of the men who are traveling to Slovakia to kill. Todd (Richard Burgi), a successful corporate type, is gung ho about the whole thing, likening it to a sensory intimidation factor. People will just know he has killed someone, and that will make him more of a man. Stuart (Roger Bart), a true family man, is having second thoughts, but Todd keeps pushing him.
Like the first film, Roth is patient with his pacing; making the audience wait nearly an hour for the first kill. Fortunately, he has such skill at creating foreboding atmosphere and milking his lush locales that we actually get wrapped up in the story. When the first victim is dispatched, in one of the most perverse deaths I’ve ever witnessed in a widely released film, we sit in shock and dismay. Some may laugh, but it is the kind of nervous laughter that only happens when one is monumentally unsettled. That’s a point for Roth.
While the atmosphere and overall darker tone works to the film’s advantage, the so-called “most shocking ending in horror movie history” is a total joke and Roth’s insistence on applying his own brand of black comedy is a disaster, particularly in the final footnote to an already-abrupt ending. Of course it’s all hype, but you have to deliver at least a little. Oh, and the door is left wide open for a third installment.
As a moderate horror genre fan, I have to give Roth credit for embracing a story that gets under the skin and maintains enough shreds of plausibility that it could infest one’s nightmares. Hostel: Part II is an improvement over its predecessor in that Roth keeps the tone more consistent and gives us more likable heroines (did anyone really care about the jerks from the first movie?), but we’re all still waiting for Roth to bust out a truly genre-defining film. He appears to be maturing with each passing release; his opportunity may come sooner than later.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 93 Minutes
Rating: R for sadistic scenes of torture and bloody violence, terror, nudity, sexual content, language and some drug content.
Theatrical Release: June 8, 2007
Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eli Roth
Cast: Lauren German, Roger Bart, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips, Richard Burgi, Vera Jordanova