Numbing sequel lacks sympathy

Posted: June 08, 2007

Eli Roth's Hostel: Part II will leave most viewers - including hard-core horror fans - feeling dirty.

This sequel to the super-violent splatter film gives a more gruesome and more fetish-filled spin to Roth's Hostel, but it tells virtually the same story as the controversial 2005 original, about three American lads who are kidnapped and sold to be tortured by sadists in a sort of death factory in Slovakia. This time, the three victims are college girls.

Roth's characterization is right out of Screenwriting 101: College Stereotypes. Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) is the annoying geek; Whitney (Bijou Phillips) is the drunken slut; Beth (Lauren German) walks the Middle Way: She's lovely, smart and graceful.

While the girls are being lured to the small town where their kidnappers await them, two of their torturers-to-be, American businessmen in their 40s who have paid $60,000 each for the girls, prepare for their bit of fun.

Roth is at his ironic best with the men. Todd, a loud-mouthed bachelor (Richard Burgi), is right out of David Rabe's Hurlyburly: He fumes and fulminates about how much he owns and how much power he has, yet how empty he feels. He has shamed his timid buddy Stuart (Roger Bart) to join this kill-a-coed safari. Stuart feels trapped by his upper-middle-class suburban life with his beautiful wife, his beautiful daughter, his beautiful pet cat and his beautiful house.

Before Stuart and Todd meet their victims, one of our heroines is bought by a woman with a vampire fetish and killed in a Gothic bloodletting told in such an unfeeling and sensationalistic way that it seems as if Roth is challenging you to walk out in disgust.

Unfortunately, this sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Roth is a talented filmmaker. He has good instincts, especially when it comes to playing with the audience's emotions. And, despite its shortcomings, Hostel: Part II has a seductive - if dangerous - charm. At times it's impossible not to revel in its aestheticized presentation of death. But this isn't nearly enough.

While the original Hostel was derided by some critics as a piece of "horror porn," it raised important questions about the place of violence in civilized society in a post-Sept. 11 and post-Abu Ghraib world. It asked whether our boys (our troops) must shed their "civilized" ethos and become vicious monsters to match up with our enemies.

Hostel is no Psycho, but like Hitchcock's classic, it forces viewers to question whether we represent violence for enlightenment or just voyeuristic kicks.

It's impossible to make the same argument for Part II. The earlier film had compassion for the victims. The sequel seems to have contempt for them and feels as if it is told from the killers' point of view - the violence we see does not disturb or even excite, but, like porn, it anesthetizes us to our own humanity.


Hostel: Part II ** (out of four stars)

Produced by Scott Spiegel, Boaz Yakin, Quentin Tarantino, written and directed by Eli Roth, photography by Milan Chadima, music by Nathan Barr, distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.

Beth. . . Lauren German

Stuart. . . Roger Bart

Lorna. . . Heather Matarazzo

Whitney. . . Bijou Phillips

Todd. . . Richard Burgi

Axelle. . . Vera Jordanova

Parent's guide: R (extreme violence and gore, depictions of torture, sexuality and profanity)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.

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