Monday, July 16, 2007
Review: Hostel: Part II
'Hostel' with chicks.
When you are on the couch with your significant other looking through the paper (oh who am I kidding – on the internet) trying to figure out what movie to see and you decide on a movie like Hostel: Part II, you have a pretty good understanding of what you are getting in to. Whether it's the posters, trailers, or director Eli Roth's previous movies (Hostel or the vastly under-appreciated Cabin Fever), there shouldn't be much in the way of surprises in regards to subject matter.
Growing up, some of my favorite movie memories were staying at my grandmother's house (who had cable), sneaking down late at night when she was asleep to watch all the horror movies mom wouldn't let us watch, then being too scared to sleep and even more afraid to tell her why. In the last 30 years, the horror genre has taken many forms. From low-budget gore (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), to zombies (Dawn of the Dead), to the occult (The Exorcist; The Omen), to the good old fashioned slasher flick (Friday the 13th; A Nightmare on Elm Street), to the self-reflective parody (Dead Alive; Scream), and back, to its current incarnation; low-budget, graphic exploitation horror (Saw; House of 1000 Corpses; Hostel). Part of the reason for the constant evolution is that when a successful new idea was introduced, it would eventually replicate itself to the point of self-consumption by the sheer volume of its own proliferation; the serpent swallowing its own tail. If the sequel is directly responsible for killing the horror genre, then a close second would be a simple matter of desensitization. Like everything in America we want it bigger, better, faster; or in the case of our horror movies, bloodier, gorier, and scarier. The problem with this idea is the farther we try to push the envelope, the more diluted the end result becomes – kind of the whole 'copy of a copy' mentality.
And therein lies the problem with Hostel: Part II. The plot of this movie is an almost word for word clone of the original. Three female college students are lured to a hostel in Slovakia where they are sold to the highest bidder for the sole purpose of being tortured for the bidder's enjoyment. The problems with Hostel are still present in the sequel. You don't really care much about the lead characters. You get the perpetuation of the stereotypical American college girl – the slut Whitney (Bijou Phillips), the good girl Lorna (Heather Matarazzo), and the all-American Beth (Lauren German). All complete with an "Oh my God, this is my song!" quote. Apparently even on vacation in Slovakia, American girls are annoying. The idea of the Elite Hunting organization (the secret, murder-for-profit outfit we found out about by the end of Hostel) was a gradual build-up the first time around. The concept was novel enough in the original, primarily because you weren't really sure was the hell was going on at first. But this time around there is no build up at all. We find out right from the beginning what is going on and simply wait for the 'kill scenes' to happen without much other incident. I am not one to label these movies 'torture-porn" or buy into the theory that they are directly responsible for the moral erosion in our society. Both points seem a bit intolerant because again, you know what you are getting yourself into when you decide to see this movie. But I also don't buy the defense that it's a commentary of the darkest aspects of capitalism either. I get it, but don't insult the audience. It is what it is and that's about what you should expect. I just expect a payoff after the build-up. I'm not going to give up on him quite yet; Roth just needs to work on his presentation a bit more. Just like the lesson I learned at my 3rd grade Halloween party: don't expect to wear a cheap plastic werewolf mask and dad's old work flannel trick-or-treating and still expect to get a rise out of people, because at the end of the day when you go home to count the candy you're still just a tall, skinny dork with a crappy getup you'll never wear again.
A 'been-there-done-that" copy of the original full of stupid horror movie clichés, bad acting, and, save for a few key scenes (the one at the end is a doozy), not all that much gore. For horror fans it's worth a one-time DVD viewing for the sake of saying you saw it, but don't call me up when you're done and expect me not to say "I told you so". And there's the rub.
* 1/2 of *****