Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hostel part II (2007)

Director: Eli Roth

I guess going into this review I should say that I thought the first “Hostel” movie was lame, and a missed opportunity. I’m trying to be open minded, and play devil’s advocate for a film that may or may not deserve such representation. In a way, “Hostel part II” wants to have its cake and eat it too, but never finds a good balance of terror and fun. I say that because I think that what writer/director Eli Roth was setting out to do was to create an entertaining film for people who love the campy aspect of splatter-fest films, and still genuinely induce horror. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of cheap shots used to induce a visceral reaction, instead of trying to build up the tension as you would expect in a torture film. I guess I would applaud him for trying a different approach, if only I felt that it worked.The cast of mostly unknowns does a good job. I can’t say I had a problem with any of the performances, merely what they were doing and saying. I think it was more of a script problem.

Taking a page from “Friday the 13th part II”, the film begins by offing the last surviving member of the previous film. This is probably the most anticlimactic, and ridiculous part of the film. In this film we begin to see the inner workings of a previously enigmatic company that provides you with youngsters to torture for a weekend getaway. Once the curtain is pulled back, we see the inner workings, and can’t help but feel disappointed. You see, sometimes this big corporation is very diligent and intense, and sometimes appears to be run by cartoon villains, complete with inept guards. Blanks that needed no filling in are revealed. This time we see the creepy bellhop make a photocopy of the passports - wow. I was shocked and horrified. Characters from the first film pop up again, but have nothing to do except cause a reaction of “Hey, that’s the guy from the first one.” They’re still up to their old tricks at that ole’ Hostel. This time it’s with chicks, though.

I was pleasently surprised by the the way this film departs from the first film, and doesn’t in any way try to remake it simply by replacing the male protagonist with females. The three main American girls on a trip through Europe meet a foreign girl who convinces them to accompany her to a spa in Slovakia. From the spa, it's just a hop skip and a jump to the torture room, and the fun begins. There's less of a sense of being isolated from your own culture, which I thought the first film did so well. You actually felt like you were a long way away from someone who would help you. We get a sense of that on the train in part II, but not nearly enough to create any tension that pays off. Assisting this lack of tension is the ever-presence of the villains of the film. It’s an interesting thought to try and peer into the lives of the people that would want to torture for money, but in the end it only amounts to them being rich guys with way too much disposable income (something we could’ve figured out already), as depicted in the bidding scene, where potential buyers vie for a girl to torture. There’s no insight as to why these characters are the way they are. That may be too heavy handed to try to portray in the film, but it shouldn’t have been introduced if they weren’t willing to go all the way with it. The characters begin to lose their menace when we see them jogging and actually talking to the girls beforehand. It just seems less creepy when they unnecessarily peel back the layers of something that was fine on its own. The unknown is always scarier -- everyone knows that.

It also annoyed me that the villain's emotions seemed to turn on a dime; trying to shock us, but not really making sense. The guy lets one of the girls go, pretending to rescue her, then knocks her out and begins torturing her. Was he faking his compassion? Did he have an epiphany of “Maybe I SHOULD kill this girl?” I dunno. Needless to say she’s able to get the upper hand and escape. There’s a nice twist where our heroine gets to do some torturing of her own, and becomes a member of this sometimes secret, sometimes not so secret society. But again, it’s like they couldn’t make up their mind as to what was supposed to be going on. They let the girl go on the technicality of, “No one leaves the killing bunker without killing someone.” Once she meets this requirement, along with the cash, she’s free to go. She simply buys her way out of this insane cult. Do they even care about getting caught? Are they just convinced this girl is a new sadistic buddy who's welcome to the club now? Because I wasn’t convinced at all. It was a nice attempt at a twist ending, but it was like Roth had written himself into a corner and that was the best he could come up with, and it ends up feeling tacked on. It feels like it was written as it was filmed, or as just an excuse to gross people out. The girl holds the organization at bay by holding one of their clients as hostage. Why would they care if she killed or hurt one of their clients? Sometimes they're business-like, and other times they're balls-to-the-wall insane. I guess I just didn't get what the torture organization was all about. That wouldn't have really even mattered to me if the film's didn't go out of its way to make the behind-the-scenes action the main focus of what the film was all about. It went out of it's way to show us stuff that wasn't interesting at all, or that we could have figured out on our own.

I do think there were effective scenes that genuinely worked, though. The first torture scene involving the nerdy girl and the sadistic, nude female client builds well. As we see the victim naked and upside down being hung into position, reality sets in for a second, and we start to think that maybe we don’t want to see what’s about to happen. It actually creeped me out as we hear the perfectly realistic noise of the blade being dragged slowly across her skin. No music or sound, save for a droning rumble adds to the tension. It was very original, and creative, but can’t save the rest of the film. There's a nice addition to the story of the husband who wants to live out his fantasy of killing his wife by using one of the girls as a stand-in for her. That added a new spin on the stereotypical killers that we see in the rest of the film. The actors were good, and well cast, but the plot was sort of all over the place, the overall mood was really uneven, and the humor falls embarrassingly flat.

Ultimately, it ends up feeling more like one of the abysmal “Saw” films than the original “Hostel”. It’s good that it wasn’t a retread of the old material, but never earns it’s shock elements that it flashes like a badge of honor before the screen. Young audiences will leave feeling like they’ve just scene an insane film; the likes of which they’ve never scene before. But there has got to be more to a film than just being different and shocking. There needs to be thought behind it, even if that thought is merely, “I just want to show the audience some nude girls and decapitations, and create a fun and terrifying experience.” Give ‘em what they want, right? On the other hand you should probably give the audience what YOU want to give them, and not simply what they want. Too much gore can be like too much sugar. If not used sparingly, or within the right mixture, it can rot your teeth. A good filmmaker knows what’s good for you, and looks out for your best interest. It’s like being a protective parent. This makes me sound like a prude, but that’s not the case (I enjoy a good castration scene as much as the next guy), but I just think it could have been done in a much more clever way; done in a way that earns its shocking scenes, and can build up to its intense moments, and doesn't simply push the envelope on what hasn’t been seen before. Pushing the envelope is fine, and even admirable to do, but it needs to have a little more structure to it than what “Hostel part II” had.

1 comment:

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