Where else can you see a woman get a buzz saw to the face and still survive, a man cutting flesh from a young man's thigh like it's a filet and a penis in all its glory get surgically removed with a pair of blunt scissors? Look no further than Hostel II, Eli Roth's box office failure.
It's no real surprise that Hostel II flopped, except that it is only rivaled by Saw - which continues to go strong - in notoriety among the "torture porn" genre. The original Hostel made a lot of money and actually got pretty good reviews, with critics appreciating the "deep" nature of the flick and its satire of foreign views of America. I didn't look that deep into it, and instead decided to focus on the terrible screenplay, the boring (though admittedly very nice nudity-filled) first half, the cheesy gore and the complete lack of plot. It was really quite a dreadful movie, aside from the good-looking girls.
Hostel II starts off where Hostel ended, with Jay Hernandez on screen. Within the first second of the film, Roth commits one of my biggest pet peeves, and that's beginning a movie with a dream sequence. Dream sequences to start films off is just extremely cheesy unless dreams are crucial to the plot of the movie (say, like Nightmare on Elm Street), and it appears as though Roth just wanted to get a bit of terror in at the beginning before he delivers an hour of nothing. Before I get to that, though, I will reveal a minor plot twist, and that is that Hernandez doesn't survive past the opening sequence. It's like Elizabeth Hurley in Austin Powers 2. As a side note, Roth never really develops Hernandez's fear that no matter where he is the killers will find him, and as a result we really don't feel anything for the hero of the first movie.
From there, the movie shifts focus to a group of college-aged women (Lauren German, Heather Matarazzo and Bijoy Phillips) who take a side trip to a Slovakian hostel after meeting up with the gorgeous Vera Jordanova, who, of course, is there to lure them to their deaths. Roth then spends an hour developing his characters, setting the stage for what is to come, and so on and so forth. It's a rather valiant effort, and Hostel II really isn't all that hard to watch even when nothing bad is happening, but this still boils down to my problem with Roth: he just thinks he's so smart and so deep when he's really not. He's making a movie where young people get cut up into little pieces. Leave it at that. The movie is never going to be an Oscar winner, so don't try to make it out to be one. He just treats Hostel II a little too seriously at times.
Oddly, the movie ends on a very weird note, with (don't worry, no real spoilers here) a bunch of little kids playing soccer with a decapitated head. Cheerful music ensues. Roth plays it seriously and then decides to go goofball just before the ending credits. It sadly reminded me of his much more dreadful Cabin Fever, just a little.
In reality, the movie is well done as much as one can expect from a movie like this. I'll admit that Roth is a better writer and director than anyone that has been involved with the Saw franchise or any other torture porn film. His movies are at least coherent. He does a good job of establishing and building his lead actress (German), and we definitely care for her even though we know she may be facing a terrible fate. Roth fails to make most of the other characters too likable, even the somewhat nerdy Matarazzo who, shockingly, gets naked. Maybe this is to our advantage so that we can completely enjoy the gore and torture, but a little more character development for the "obvious-you're-going-to-die" people might have helped.
Hostel II really picks up once the torture begins, and the scenes here are much better than those in the original. I didn't think the gore in the first movie was all that spectacular or realistic, whereas here Roth has definitely taken things up a notch and delivered some extremely nasty treats. One of the best parts is a quick, 10-second scene where an old man cuts a piece of flesh from a young man's leg, places it on a plate and then walks over to a table to enjoy his meal. A woman getting her scalp halfway removed is also quite disturbing. And every man will buckle over when Roth shows in vivid detail a penis getting removed by scissors.
The little twist at the end actually is halfway decent. Nevertheless, after the twist occurs, Roth finishes the film so abruptly that the ending seems incomplete. A few more minutes to flesh things out could have helped a lot.
Okay, I'll admit it. I sort of liked Hostel II. Aside from less nudity, it is definitely a lot better than the original, even if it is essentially reusing the exact same formula. The characters are a bit more believable and the gore more realistic, and that makes Hostel II work better on both ends of the spectrum. That being said, this genre was tired even before Saw started the franchise; two Hostels are more than enough.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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