Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"Hostel: Part II" -- * * *

Ever since “Saw” and, more recently, “Hostel” were thrust forth on the moviegoing public, the phrase “torture porn” has been bandied about like nobody’s business to describe them. “Hostel” writer/director Eli Roth despises the term, and it’s always struck me as a bit unfair and inaccurate to attach to these films. Yes, torture is their center and essentially makes up their “money shots,” but it’s actually a part of the stories, in the context of a real movie, and doesn’t exist solely to give pleasure of some sort simply from watching someone’s torture/pain/death.

However, a little past the halfway point of “Hostel: Part II,” Roth includes a scene that can only be described as “torture porn,” in every sense of the word, and it’s not pretty. It’s disturbing, it’s wrong, it actually crosses the barely-there line for horror films, and I hate to sound like a Fox News correspondent, but I think it actually may be irresponsible. Without giving away the specifics, it’s a disturbing, horrific scene that Roth infuses with elements that I sincerely believe he hopes will give some audience members erections.

Despite my issues with this sequence, I will still recommend “Hostel: Part II” to anyone who enjoyed “Hostel” (myself included), and Roth has clearly grown as a filmmaker; the movie has more originality and elements of interest than we have any right to expect for this genre. I just hope it doesn’t represent where horror films are going in the future.

The film opens with Paxton (Jay Hernandez), our “hero” from the first film at exactly the point we left him at the end of “Hostel,” on the train ride home. However, he’s not our hero for “Hostel: Part II,” as he’s dispatched by the 8-minute mark. The story soon shifts to our three female protagonists, the nice, pretty, rich girl (Lauren German), the beautiful confident bitchy one (Bijou Philips) and the sweet, dorky, sober one (Heather Matarazzo). Just like the first film, it follows their fun and frivolity abroad (though they don’t partake in mean and exploitive behavior like their male counterparts), before horror sets in and they wind up in a torture factory of sorts.

What makes this more than just a rehash of the first film, and what makes it a lot more interesting, is Roth’s decision to tell two parallel stories. One telling the story of these three girls, and one following two businessmen (Richard Burgi and Roger Bart, both excellent), who will inevitably become these girls’ torturers. These two mens’ turnarounds, and their character arcs (Bart’s particularly) are really intriguing, and their screen time ends up being the highlights of the movie.

The movie also cleverly gives us a bit more specifics on the running of the actual torturing palace, and they’ve clearly made upgrades since the first film, making it a lot less easy for someone to get out (presumably in response to Paxton’s escape).

I swear, I must be the only person on earth who enjoys these movies for their storytelling and not for their gore, but if that’s your bag, yeah, the gore is relatively impressive. It’s not as frequent as it was in “Hostel,” but when it happens, it bites your balls off. It’s pretty horrific. However, in the interest of full disclosure, like the first film, no, “Hostel: Part II” isn’t particularly scary. It’s simply gory, fun and entertaining.

But really, I don’t think Roth is trying to make a scary film here. There are horrific moments to be sure, but there’s far too much dark, absurdist comedy present here for it to really come off as a movie that wants to genuinely fuck people up. The soccer-playing street kids from “Hostel” are back, and they show up for the film’s final moment that I happened to enjoy a lot, but may rub some audience members the wrong way.

Then again, rubbing some audience members the wrong way is practically this franchise’s calling card. You should pretty much know by now whether the “Hostel” films are for you. If this is your bag, “Hostel: Part II” has a lot to offer: insane amounts of gore, horror infused with absurdist humor, gratuitous nudity (both cocks and titties this time around), and a relatively clever storytelling angle. What it DOESN’T have, despite what Roth may claim in interviews, is any sort of political symbolism/relevance or sincere message. I like the “Hostel” films and I recommend them to horror fans; it’s just a shame Roth feels the need to make up such bullshit to justify his fun, gory freak show, when just the freak show should suffice.


Blogger Barry said...

I hate the phrase "torture porn". What an ugly way to describe a movie. It's a movie, not a porno.

Glad you liked it though. I really want to see it.

1:57 AM  
Blogger bruce said...

i enjoyed the fact that bijiou and heather played up their typecast.

6:58 AM  

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