Something strange is happening to Eli Roth. Don’t ask me how, or don’t ask me when, but somewhere between the making of HOSTEL and the making of HOSTEL: Part II, he’s become a somewhat competent filmmaker. I know, I didn’t believe it either, but the results are there on the screen should you be brave enough to expose your eyeballs to it.
The setup for the original HOSTEL was take some dumb Americans and their gullible Icelandic friend, send them to Slovakia on a quest for the elusive vaginafish, and butcher them like the dumb fratboys they are. The setup for HOSTEL II is to take some dumb Americans (sans Icelandic friend), send them to Slovakia for a weekend trip to a world-renowned hot springs and spa, and butcher them like the spoiled sorority girls they are. I hope you caught all those vast differences, because I don’t think I can spare the time to go over it again.
When I reviewed HOSTEL, I said the movie never adequately developed a sense of legitimate dread, partly because the characters were (Oli aside, since he’s the kind of the swing) repulsive, obnoxious, and kind of worthless pieces of gutter slime.
Now there’s only one repulsive chick named Whitney (Bijou Phillips, playing her usual obnoxious slut character), a reasonably nice heiress named Beth (Lauren German), and their wallflower dork of a roommate (making her the most likable character of the three) Lorna (Heather Matarazzo). The girls are studying art in Rome (an excuse to get some naked flesh on screen), but they need a break from the Italian boys, so they decide to head to Prague. While on the train, packed with drunk obnoxious soccer (football) fans, they run into the nude model who previously had shown a little too much interest in the lovely Beth, a comely Eastern European named Axelle (Vera Jordanova). Thanks to her praising words, the girls decide to blow off Prague and head south, for the lovely vacation spot known as Slovakia and a hostel that should be vaguely familiar.
The girls check in, the bidding war begins, and two of our three lucky winners are a couple of American businessmen, alpha male Todd (Richard Burgi) and the more spineless Stuart (Tony Award winner Roger Bart). This is one of the parts of HOSTEL II that worked for me. We get some characterization of the victims, and finally, we get some identifiable killers to study, as well as a great deal more information on the Elite Hunting Club who organizes and runs the Slovakian charnel house. These little details make HOSTEL II easier to follow, and much more interesting than the original.
HOSTEL was sold based on the premise that it was going to be shockingly disgusting, but was underwhelming in terms of gore (at least to me). HOSTEL II was sold as something more suspenseful, and it worked hard to develop both a sense of tension for both the fates of the girls and the fates of the two Americans who may or may not have the balls to follow through on what they paid for. This tension, actually palpable for once, makes the gore set pieces (including a spectacular Elizabeth Bathory scene and a cameo from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST director Ruggerio Deodato) that much more effective.
See, Eli? It’s not that hard. Give us characters who we don’t instantly hate, and maybe we actually start caring whether or not they live or die, rather than actively root for them all to die horrible deaths! Give us some pathos, and your movie is that much better for it.
Now hurry up and make THANKSGIVING already!