Eli Roth certainly doesn't pull any punches and really knows how to do things all the way. So I give him props there. However, I didn't walk away from 2005's Hostel with much more than an appreciation for his ability to shock and horrify and Cabin Fever felt like it was almost there, not quite getting to what it could have been.
Hostel II surprised me. It's actually quite good and much smarter than the first one. No doubt, people will be talking about the incredible violence and gore, especially in the final scene, but that's only part of what's so disturbing about the movie.
For those unfamiliar, the plot of both films is essentially the same. The wealthy and powerful elite pay an enormous sum of money to join a secret society. They come to a hidden and highly fortified location in Slovakia to torture and murder innocent people. There you go. The films are supposedly a commentary on rampant and out of control consumerism. A graphic warning that power and influence come with a price.
The first Hostel was too extreme in every way. The Eastern Bloc Europeans were portrayed as filthy, sleazy, leather jacket wearing scumbags who will do anything for money, the women being insanely beautiful but dirty dirty dirty. The American college kids were about as obnoxious as could be, running with the "ugly American" shtick until exhausted. And the torture and gore were so grotesque as to lose effectiveness and become nothing more than an exercise in barf-bag effects.
Part II is much more clever and effective. The "victims" are less loathsome so you can begin to empathize with them as fellow human beings. The "killers" are also given faces and histories which really ups the ante in terms of being disturbing. There is a scene where various people of wealth and influence are shown calmly bidding online to kill the college girls. It's so cold and grim that it might be the scariest thing about the film.
In fact, in giving the killers a voice and background, Roth has made the film 100% more believable. Case in point - the two main killers are these wealthy American guys who have just joined the society and are tough-talking their way into actually getting up the nerve to go torture and kill the victims they have "purchased". As they go for their morning jog around a quaint Slovakian village in their $200 track suits, they talk about how they will now be feared by their co-workers and clients. How they will have gone to the next level in terms of power and influence. This scares me to no end because, working in corporate America, I know people who think this way - power and success, wealth and influence, these are the ultimate goals. And what could be more powerful than having the ability to and experience of torturing and killing others because you have the money? Creepy.
Then there is the gore and violence. Part One seemed to switch gears about halfway through it's running and became a non-stop spectacle of blood. Part II's violence is, well, not toned down (at ALL), but there is less of it so it's not overwhelming or numbing. Again, the final scene (well, near-final scene) is so gnarly, I'm surprised to hear that Roth really didn't get much guff from the MPAA about it. It certainly made me cringe and the 14 year old boys behind me who snuck in, each let out a collective gasp and groan.
Still, there are some scenes that are a little corny, one in particular involving a naked woman writhing in a fancy marble-tiled bathtub as she bathes in the blood of the dying girl strung up above her. It easily could have been a Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth video.
Speaking of naked girls strung up over bathtubs, the big shock for me was that Heather Matarazzo was one of the main stars. So, if you've ever fantasized about Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse being naked, tortured and killed, well, here is your chance. Just don't ask to be friends with me because, while I'm a pretty open minded guy, that's just fucking weird.