The 2005 film Hostel concerned three ugly Americans, young men, backpacking in Eastern Europe, sniffing around for drugs and easy sex. Perhaps as punishment for their hedonism, they were kidnapped by a crime ring operating out of an abandoned factory. There they were sold to the super rich, who paid for the right to torture and kill them. An over-the-top ending, meant to be funny, could not completely dispel the plausibility and potency of that premise.
The box office of Hostel dictates that we now have a sequel, Hostel Part II , to contend with. The returning writer/director, enfant terrible Eli Roth, is interested in working out more of the details of the organization, whose reach, it turns out, is global and profound. As three more Americans – women this time – are slowly set up, we see men around the world bidding on them with their Blackberries. Some of these men have children. Some even have grandchildren. It’s a powerful sequence.
What kind of person would pay to do this? Stuart, played by Roger Bart, has been egged on by his friend Todd, Richard Burgi. To Todd, this is just a logical outgrowth of a series of increasingly debauched and risky male bonding excursions. "Do you remember the first guy in high school to have sex?" Todd asks Stuart. "He didn’t have to say anything; you just knew. After this, people who look in your eyes will know: this is a guy who has killed someone. People will fear you after today. Your wife will fear you."
The three American women are clichés; the oversexed redhead, Whitney; the thoughtful brunette, Beth; and Lorna, Heather Matarazzo, the hopelessly naïve nerd. Before Todd and Stuart converge with Whitney and Beth, we get a dry run with Lorna. What happens to her is awful because it is so unceremonious.
Carol Clover has written of a phenomenon, chiefly in American slasher movies, that she calls the "final girl". The sole surviving woman picks up the weapon of the attacker, which becomes a kind of phallic symbol; and, in exacting her revenge, she herself becomes the monster. That is the case in Hostel Part II , which ends by foregrounding the gender issues it has stirred up.
My own feeling is that this is a weakness. With the snip of a scissors, we are let off the hook; it was all in good fun, you see. But Lorna’s death won’t go away, and neither will images of Stuart, who discovers, in the crucible of killer and victim, that he is capable of evil.
Horror films come in movements, and they speak to their cultural moment. When the Manson family terrorized the nation, for example, the slasher film was in its heyday. The current torture trend began with David Fincher’s Seven in 1995, continued through ’70s horror remakes and the Saw films, and now has reached some kind of climax. While the filmic mainstream has deadened us with empty computer graphic spectacle, while we are saturated daily with death statistics from Iraq, while our own country is engaged in actual torture, we are getting exactly the horror films we deserve.
It’s hard to believe that the film Waitress can exist in the same universe as Hostel Part II . But it’s important that this is the case.
Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.