I think it's fair to say that Eli Roth is easily one of the most divisive names among horror fans. Whether it be his films, his “Teddy fucking ballpark” acting, or even the man himself, Roth has found a way to leave an impression on horror fans that ranges from unmitigated adoration to complete repulsion. While his filmography is still in an infantile state with the amount of directorial output he has produced, Roth has made quite the impact on the genre since his 2002 debut, Cabin Fever.
Regardless of the fact that both Cabin Fever and his sophomore effort, 2005's Hostel, have split a small rift in how they are received by horror fans, Cabin Fever has a decent cult following while Hostel is the template of -- and will likely be looked back upon as a major piece of -- the genre that would come to be branded "Torture Porn." To label either Hostel or Cabin Fever as being unfairly underappreciated would be a tad unfitting, as each film has garnered a decent amount of fandom in some fashion. Nevertheless, Eli Roth has directed one other notable horror movie, and it's actually one that I truly enjoy; however, it's also a film that seems to chap the average horror fan's ass in the harshest of way, and that would be his follow up to Hostel: 2007's Hostel: Part II.
Now, I should be clear that when I say that "I truly enjoy" Hostel: Part II, I may be underplaying it a bit because, quite frankly, I very much LOVE Hostel: Part II. In fact, I find it to be one of the rare sequels that surpasses its predecessor in almost every way. Now, there's no denying the fact that Hostel: Part II is, at its core, the same story as what was found in the original. It's certainly a valid observation, but not so much a valid complaint when it's something we've seen more than once before, most notably with The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, for example.
Swapping out the boys for a group of young women, Hostel: Part II does somewhat follow the same premise as Hostel, but what the sequel does differently is expand upon what was done in the first movie. Most notably, it gives the audience an inside look into how Elite Hunting functions as an entity, even giving a second story arc to two men who are to poised to partake in the murders of two of the film's main protagonists. Giving a background or a backstory to characters, or what have you, in a horror sequel or a reboot often proves to be tedious and unnecessary. In the case of Hostel: Part II, it works as a fairly brilliant way to break up the monotony of that familiar plot line the girls follow, while also, and more importantly, serving an actual purpose to the story. Giving a face (and the time to go with it) to the protagonists doesn't take away from the value of the female characters, as they are clearly the focus of Hostel: Part II. Sharing the spotlight with "the killers" doesn't pull away from the focal point of this sequel; it simply works as a parallel to it. It's very much like watching a game of cat and mouse but from both points of view.
One of the things that works best in Hostel: Part II is the always lingering and uncertain threat that seems to follow the female protagonists, no matter where they are or who they're with. It's never clear exactly who can be trusted, and the fact that they're in a foreign land only compounds the danger of it all. And for me, Roth really comes through with bringing these moments to life in ways that are quite tense, keeping Hostel: Part II's horror qualities from being solely focused on the torturous aspects, which is something that was an issue (for some) with the first film.
One of the strongest moments in particular is when the film's main focus, Beth, awakens from a short nap at a geothermal spa only to find that everyone has disappeared, her belongings included. The frigid, steam-filled setting is absolutely striking and grandiose in a way where the surroundings begin to dwarf Beth, making her sudden seclusion all the more imposing. However, that seclusion is eradicated when Beth is approached by a group of men who clearly mean her harm. Suddenly, and without warning, the massive and comforting environment begins to squeeze in on her, leaving Beth with no choice but to try to escape the cage that is fastly forming around her. It's a fantastic moment, and one that shows Roth's maturity as a director.
Something else that stands out greatly for me with Hostel: Part II are the female characters, specifically Beth, who is played fantastically by Lauren German. I think most people chalk the women of Hostel: Part II up to being no more than boobied versions of the guys from the first film. This is something I cannot completely disagree with, specifically when it comes to Bijou Phillips' character Whitney, but Beth steps out from the pack for being what I consider a fantastic example of a truly strong female character.
In many ways, Beth could be considered a final girl, except for the typical Slasher final girl is somewhat shy and non confrontational, that is, until it's their time to shine comes in the final act. Beth, on the other hand, is shown to be a headstrong and self assured woman a number of times throughout the film, and where her character ends up in the finale is mirrored by her actions throughout the movie. I think this becomes apparent during an early altercation where a scummy European guy calls Beth a "cunt." Instead of cowering away from the confrontation, she launches right back at him, flat out telling the guy to "fuck off." Beth doesn’t show even the slightest sign of being intimidated, and this plays out greatly in the final moments of the film where she takes complete control of the situation she is in, therefore allowing herself a chance to escape. And when Beth is once again referred to as a cunt, well, the results are about as bloody satisfying as it gets.
I won't sit here and claim that Hostel: Part II is without its flaws, but all around it's a very well crafted film, and one that I consider to be quite an enjoyable watch. With the specific sub-genre that it falls into, I can accept the fact that this isn't the type of film that everyone will enjoy, but personal taste, as well as negative feelings about the director as a person, shouldn't dictate whether or not a movie is good (well, most of the time). It's not a perfect film, but it works perfectly for me, which, in the end, is all that matters.
This look at Hostel: Part II is my contribution to Full Moon Reviews "Sequel September." Make sure you stop by Full Moon reviews for all the other sequel goodies that Fred the Wolf and others have cooked up for the month!