Saturday, June 09, 2007

REVIEW: Hostel: Part II


It'd be interesting to find out what really scares Eli Roth.

I say that because, as most horror filmmakers are out to scare their audience and tend to start from a place that scares them, Roth seems to be an anomally: The first horror-specialist in a long time who's (thus far) openly focused on the most literal interpretation of the job: His films are designed to horrify, not scare. Being scary is all about the unexpected, sudden shock/surprise, and so far Roth is all about the slow, meticulous buildup to a nightmarish event he's already shown us coming.

This isn't a criticism, just an observation: Roth is a gorehound, and the "Hostel" movies are FOR gorehounds. He's expertly structured them to provide just-at-the-right-moment mixes of guiltily-fascinating "I can't BELIEVE they just DID THAT!!!" brutality inflicted ON the victims and cathartic "Yyyyyeah! Get that bastard!!!" revenge brutality inflicted BY the victims; all of it imagined with the kind of perverse creativity that the Fangoria crowd can't get enough of.

The first "Hostel" introduced us to "Elite Hunting," a shadowy organization that kidnapped disposable tourists in Slovakia from a Hostel "front" and locked them into cells in some abandoned Eastern Bloc factory, where wealthy clients paid big bucks for the chance to mutilate, torture and kill them in any manner they saw fit. #2 offers more of the same, but with a more immediately-compelling set of victims-to-be and a broader look at how "Elite Hunting" operates.

Right off the bat: What's going to make or break the endurance-factor for a lot of veiwers this time around is the new lineup of leads. The original film was willing to let it's audience off the "hook," to an extent, in the vicarious enjoyment department by making the bodies-to-be a trio of oversexed American frat boys - i.e., in the movie-verse, guys who're "kinda asking for it" just by existing. This time around, though, he's not going to let you off so clean: The "fresh meat" are three traveling female art students.

How far does he plan on taking the "screw with you" factor here? One of the three is played by Heather Matarazzo, best remembered as "Weinerdog" from "Welcome to The Dollhouse," and lets face it... you'd have to be a pretty depraved son of a bitch to WANT to see something eye-poppingly ghastly happen to Heather Matarazzo. Er... for the record? Eli Roth: One depraved son of a bitch, it turns out... Ahem. The other two more-prominent leads are a sensible rich-girl (Jordan Ladd) and Bijou Philips as a party-girl who has chosen to ignore every single "how not to die in a horror movie" rule.

As with the first film, Roth is out to turn genre cliches against themselves: In an Eli Roth movie, being free of movie-sin is the OPPOSITE of a get-out-alive-free pass. In fact, he takes a visible pleasure in the "surprise" of putting the most sympathetic characters through the most shiver-inducing slashings.

The ick-factor is furthered by following a seperate, paralell storyline: The day-before adventures of a pair of white collar American "power tie" guys on their way to an Elite Hunting holiday. One is hoping to gain an aura of board-room power from the act of murder, while the other is mainly blowing off steam about his domineering wife. The cast MIGHT be too on the nose here, as both of them look like the picture-perfect image of preening upscale-suburban douchebaggery - or, in shorthand, they're both dead ringers for Mitt Romney.

The bottom line is, you already know whether or not you're going to see this, and if you ARE then you probably already know the point is to go in and be repulsed-yet-transfixed by the horrors being done to the good guys, with the payoff being that eventually at least ONE of the good guys will "strike back" with even GREATER horror which you can then enjoy without shame. We KNOW Roth is going to deliver on this, so whether or not he does isn't the question. Of course he does.

The important question is, aside from visceral thrill of the thing, how is it otherwise? Short version: Pretty damn good. Roth knows his way around formula, which means he also knows exactly where a curveball as to who's capable of what and why will be best suited. He knows what his audience wants to see, and thus what they aren't expecting to see (the two "big" kill scenes of the film will be talked about by genres fans for YEARS, including one which openly breaks one of film's oldest and silliest taboos.) And, when necessary, he knows that sometimes a classic never goes out of style: An early interlude involving a (seemingly) rare female Elite Hunter who seems to be emulating a certain Euro-horror staple character should put a (guilty) grin on the face of more than a few genre afficionados... until, of course, they realize what it means they're about to be shown.