JUNE 7, 2007
OK, I’ll admit to it, I downloaded the workprint of Hostel Part II after seeing it tonight at the premiere. I could have done so even earlier and had a review up, but I think reviewing a workprint of a film is like telling your mom her cookies suck after you eat some of the batter. Not only is it not fair, it’s just fucking rude. Especially when it comes to horror films, a proper soundtrack is essential to the film’s effectiveness. Carpenter showed Halloween without the music, and got rejected by every studio there was. Then he added his legendary score, and the same folks who said it stunk said it was the scariest movie they had ever seen.
Also, my mom doesn’t make bad cookies.
So why did I download it at all? Because I had a sneaking suspicion about the film after it was over: that it was the type of movie that worked better on a 2nd viewing. And like no less than four other times in history, I was correct. While I was initially sort of disappointed and even sort of puzzled by the fact that this film has less violence and gore than the original (despite Eli’s claims to the contrary), it works much better on a 2nd view, when your expectations have been thrown out the window and you can focus on the film for what it is (even more impressive when you consider my 2nd viewing was on a crappy bootleg).
What it IS, in fact, is a pretty solid sequel. There is a sequence early on of people bidding on the girls, and it is possibly the best sequence in Roth’s career. My wife got more frightened watching these doctors, laywers, family men, even a woman, calmly bid thousands of dollars for the right to torture and kill some innocent girl, than any other ‘gorno’ scene in the film. And the guy who works the front desk at the hostel is one of the creepiest non-violent characters I have ever seen in a film. There’s also a heartbreaking scene of a kid who looks like he stepped out of Deliverance (and time traveled 35 years, I guess) who tries to help one of the girls. But because he is weird looking, she refuses, sealing both their fates. Poor sod.
However, there are some problems. The two big twists are easily guessable (more on that later), and Lauren German’s final girl character is pretty one-note (not that Paxton was a multilayered icon of heroism, but he wasn’t set up to be the hero, the other guy was, so it was OK and even part of the point, I think). But for the most part, Hostel II is, at least in execution, what a sequel should be: a continuation of the original, with both a repeat of some elements and a changeup of others. No one wants the exact same movie, but no one wants something entirely unrelated either. The result is a nearly 50/50 split of the two. I would have liked to have seen more of Sasha, the Elite Hunting “president”, and maybe a little more development with Richard Burgi’s character (as the saying goes, “This film needs more Richard Burgi!”), but I understand the need to spend time with our females, especially when they’re THIS hot. It’s a trifecta of perfect ‘types’: Vera Jordanova – the exotic supermodel-y beauty type, Bijou Phillips – the hot sorority party girl type, and Lauren German – the cute as hell girl next door type. Boyoyoyoyong. Best looking horror movie since Black Xmas! Even Jordan Ladd looks hotter than she usually does. Sadly, I think her screen credit is on-screen longer than she is.
Back to the twists. In a schizophrenic (‘split personality’ style schizophrenia, not ‘real’ schizophrenia) screenwriting choice, Roth uses EXTREME subtlety to foreshadow one surprise (that Roger Bart’s meek character would eventually go apeshit and be the most vicious character in the film) and EXTREME shoehornery to foreshadow another (that German’s character is rich). See, in the first film, I was truly shocked when the Derek Richardson character got killed halfway through. Even when he was being stabbed, I was still like “OK so he escapes, then Paxton dies, and- oh shit, no, he’s dead. Fuck!” It wasn’t telegraphed, everything in the film up to that point led us to believe that he would be our hero.
Not the case here. For barely any reason whatsoever, Bijou starts explaining to the audience, I mean, her friend, that German’s character is super rich. Hmm, what could that mean? That she would buy her way out of being killed, maybe? But on the flipside, Bart’s character is totally repressed, dominated by his wife. He says as much after he freaks out and begins slapping his victim around. But on my first viewing, even though I figured he would do that (while the previously gung ho Burgi character suddenly chickens out. It’s very similar to Dogma in that respect), it still seemed sloppy and out of left field. But watching it again, I see it is in fact quite nicely foreshadowed: In the one scene of Bart at home, his wife leaves for work and leaves the door open, her plate on the table. Then, Bart silently cleans up after her. It’s actually quite subtle and wonderfully done, and shows that when he wants to, Eli can indeed write (and direct) such character development in a far greater way than he is often given credit for. Again, the first time I watched it, it didn’t resonate with me, because I was like “Yeah, yeah, come on let’s see some Achilles’ heels being cut!!! WOOO GORE!!!!!!!!” Because that’s what I expect when I sit down to watch an Eli Roth movie.
But this is a new and improved Roth. While it is leaps and bounds over Cabin Fever, I still prefer the first Hostel, and as the “Hey guys, she’s rich! REMEMBER THAT!!!” scene proves, he could have used another draft or two. But otherwise, it’s good to see him trying to make more of a real film, rather than cater to expectation and make a film showcasing how many different ideas he had to torture folks. Good for him! Proud of ya!!
I should note, Roth is from Newton, Mass, a town located some 12 feet or so from where I lived (Arlington), so I have undying support for him. He may have overhyped the movie (seriously, it's not more violent at all, unless you're some sort of sexist that feels that a woman being killed is equal to 3 guys being killed), but when it comes to doing his job, i.e. making entertaining horror films, dude is 3 for 3 in my book, which is more than I can say for many of his peers. Besides, I don’t buy into the notion of “In order to enjoy your films (or music, or books, or sandwiches) I must think you are a perfect person". Hell, I tell people to watch Victor Salva’s Clownhouse, and that guy fucking raped a kid while he made it. Mel Gibson's a racist, doesn't make Lethal Weapon less awesome. So I certainly wouldn’t dismiss Roth’s films because the guy might have a bit of an ego.
Kudos, sire Roth. You pulled off a solid sequel. Even Craven (Hills 2 or Scream 2 or 3) and Carpenter (Escape From LA) couldn't manage that. And shame on the folks who watched a sub-quality, unfinished version of the film and based their opinion on it without viewing the final product. If you liked what you saw, fine, say so. But slamming an unfinished film, to me, shows a total lack of respect for not just the filmmaker but for filmmaking in general.
What say you?