Hostel: Part II

Certificate: 18
Running time: 93 mins
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Lauren German, Roger Bart, Richard Burgi, Bijou Phillips
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: United States

The success of the 2005 Hostel meant that a Part II was as inevitable as a high employment turnover in the cleaning department of the Elite Hunting Club.  The trick for writer/director is one that affects all sequels and plagues all horror sequels which is one of reinvention within the spirit and themes expected.

Hostel: Part II picks up a short time after Paxton’s escape from Slovakia and once dispensing with unfinished business refocuses of three American girls backpacking through Europe as they are targeted by the employees of the EHC.

What Roth does well, as writer, is understand the pitfalls of the sequel and in doing so knows that success comes from offering the audience (who have come along with their own expectations) more of the same but from a relatively different angle.  The focusing on three female central characters changes the connotations from the first film, it feels a lot more predatory and brutal which is reinforced wonderfully through the characters Stuart (Bart) and Todd (Burgi).  The decision to focus some of the narrative on the members of the EHC is a smart one, where previously there were unseen butchers we’re able to connect to them.  Rather than serve to humanize them it actually works towards making them more frightening and unnerving.  It’s easy to see them as monstrous and inhumane but when you see their interactions with one another, their anticipation and excitement with regards to murder you realize they are not faceless monsters, there are human beings albeit human beings with psycho-sexual issues that have left unresolved to the point of psychosis.  It also gives the audience a sense of scope.  In Hostel the whole organization had a well organized but small feel to them. 

The change of narrative focus in Hostel: Part II shows you the panoramic view of the Elite Hunting Club and their operations in the troubled regions of Eastern Europe.  Narratively it offers the sequel a much needed new direction but it also serves up an interesting critique on the American media’s glorification of violence.  The conversations between Stuart and Todd are some of the most loaded and tellingly loaded with notions of fantasy and self actualization.  The difference between Americas ‘idea’ of violence and their ‘experience’ is most acutely different than when Todd steps foot into his kill room.  The glorification of violence by those who have been sheltered from it works extremely well against the backdrop of the troubled Eastern block.

Heather Matazazzo (Lorna) is a surprise piece of casting, the women of Hostel have a particular siren look about them so the casting of Welcome to the Dollhouse’s Dawn Wiener (Wiener Dog) adds a comedic awkwardness that off sets the predatory feel of the film which is, almost exclusively, preying on women.  Her delivery is in an entirely different league, she’s so good she’s almost distracting.  Bijou Phillips (Whitney) performs adequately but her role is similar to that of Oli in the first film in that it’s under written and serves the narrative as driver of the plot and proprietor of exposition and her end is as equally as bloody.  Lauren German makes a wonderful leading lady, she oozes the sexuality of the predatory EHC women and is equal match for Vera Jordanova (Axelle) and like the greatest women in Exploitation cinema carries the physical side of the role with all the pose and believability of a Judith Brown, Pam Grier or Marlene Clark.  

Horror films have been solid exporters of the tough female lead, German’s Beth is one that has all the traits of a horror leading lady plus a level of emotional control that’s usually attributed to male characters, which Stuart discovers to his cost.  Roger Bart (as Stuart) is strong, his transformation from timid and uncertain to blood thirsty is an interesting one and his scenes alongside German (leading up to the day he’s been waiting for) are loaded and tense.  Hands down man of the match is Richard Burgi.  His physical stature and roles in 24 and Cellular reinforce an expectation from him based on his size but Roth plays on and against well and he’s rarely been as good.

The violence, as expected, is heavy, lingering and bloody but has something else to it as well.  There are traces of gratification that, obviously, weren’t present in Hostel but can’t be gotten away from here.  Matarazzo’s death sequence, for instance, has her suspended upside down over a naked woman and ultimately a bloodbath.  The imagery here can’t help but carry a level of the ‘sexual’, Roth’s decision to have a woman committing the crime is an interesting one as it show’s the EHC as asexual (which it hasn’t been before) but it also lessens the death.  Whether it works will ultimately be decided on where you stand on the debate regarding the gender of physical violence.  Whitney’s kill room is highly sexualized yet her killer, who has been shown to have no interest in sex earlier in the film, is unable to perform as she is heavily sexualized in pink underwear and stockings.

The cinematography has a strong gothic feel to it and the inside of the EHC borrows heavily from Weimar cinema (though it has been toned down to be accessible).  The use of muted tones gives the film a real bleakness and contrasts rather well with the claret that’s spilt in the name of money, fantasy and escapism.

Hostel: Part II feels less like the films that inspired their inception, it benefits from a wider look at the whole in which the Elite Hunting Club inhabits and is in many ways a superior film to the first.


Ty said...

Good Review! Thought this was a pretty silly sequel. The bit when every sleazy guy is bidding on the women like something on Ebay was ridiculous.

But will say some the gore sequences were entertaining.

John Baxter said...

Lol @ eBay, yeah there's a lot of silliness. Think that comes with the genre. Looking at these films for a reason, great film with Robert Reed on the cards.

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