Hostel Part II

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 Horrorthon Posts / Horrorthon Reviews

(2007) ****

I’m told that the box-office failure of Hostel Part II was the main reason that the “gore-nograpy” sub-genre failed (except for the endlessly-lucrative Saw franchise). This is both a shame and a mystery, because Part II is as surprisingly innovative and remarkable as Hostel (2005) (which I liked), perfectly extending and repeating its predecessor’s signal achievements and, in certain ways, surpassing them. I wonder if an unfortunate opening weekend fluke is responsible; I don’t like to think that the audiences who embraced the first movie would be so turned-off by the second, since (in the tradition of The Godfather Part II) the sequel achieves an unusual degree of continuity with—and fidelity to—its predecessor. (The “Part II” in the title is no accident: as with The Godfather, this is a sequel that’s meant to be viewed as an integral part of the same cinematic story).

Like Halloween II (1981), Hostel Part II picks up directly after the events of the first movie, seamlessly extending the story of returning survivor Paxton (Jay Hernandez), still riding the same train he boarded minutes from the end of Hostel. It’s immediately clear, however, that this new movie has something like five times the budget of the original; the photography (by the same cinematographer and crew) is vastly richer and more lush, revealing the benefits of lavish post-production and digital grading and a significantly more ambitious visual technique. (My screengrabs illustrate this nicely – compare to last time.) Despite the newly-expensive production (which allows most of the improvised location work from Part I to be replaced with elaborate sets), writer/director Eli Roth works hard to maintain visual and textural continuity with the first half of the story. Like the two Godfathers, these movies integrate together into a unified whole.

Part II rapidly moves beyond the Jay Hernandez story (in a truly excellent and satisfying manner which I refuse to describe) and splits into two halves, focusing both on a new set of victims, and (expanding beyond the scope of the first movie) on the hidden underside of the titular location—the picturesque Slovakian town with a hellish, deadly secret. This gives the events of the new movie a nefarious, global dimension only hinted at before, as the “Elite Hunting Corp”’s shadowy clients are brought to the foreground so that their motivations and psychoses (and the fascinatingly plausible business machinations that allow the clandestine slaughterhouse to function) can enjoy the viewer’s full scrutiny. These sequences, in which two American businessmen (Richard Burgi and Roger Bart) join the international queue of wealthy psychopaths whose darkest impulses are satisfied within that same Slovakian factory, fearlessly explore the deep Orwellian themes only hinted at before. I wrote last time that the basic premise (like the Halloween premise) is best viewed through a metaphorical lens, since it’s not really plausible at all; while that’s still true, the new movie bravely fills in the background details and color of the “Hostel” conceit in a skillful, artful way that remains believable (at least while you’re watching) while forcing a more unflinching examination of the political and moral underpinnings of this powerful concept.

The other half of the movie – the interthreaded scenes featuring a new set of victims – is more directly a repeat of last time, with the crucial difference that these “lambs to the slaughter” are all women (the excellent Lauren German, Heather Matarazzo and Bijou Phillips). This was a brave choice, since there’s really no question of “just desserts” any more; the women are straight-up victims (even though their lure into the Hostel, interestingly, is a female temptress) and their fates are that much more horrifying to sit through. But Roth and company rise to the occasion in as fundamentally non-exploitative a way as before, wielding their larger budget (and a set of even more horrifyingly sadistic ideas) in order to broaden and deepen the shocking impact of these scenes. This portion of Hostel Part II is admittedly a repeat of last time, but the ante has been upped so successfully, in so many ways, that the new movie wouldn’t feel like a retread even if it didn’t employ the added dimensionality provided by the mirror-story about the hostel’s clients.

The suspenseful, twist-filled inevitability with which these two stories (the hunters and the hunted) collide provides a thrilling, disturbing drama that far surpasses the considerable achievements of the first movie. In the end, Hostel Part II (and the completed Hostel project) is more than the sum of its parts, and far more than its modest “torture-porn” roots would suggest was possible. The imagery and the violence are more shocking and horrifying than in the first movie, but, far more important and impressive, Part II raises the bar intellectually and thematically (and technically, in terms of the craft and art of the moviemaking itself), propelling the story into an admirably high-minded and thought-provoking realm of low-brow “shock” entertainment.