I’ve mentioned I’m a movie buff, and I’ve decided to throw in some movie reviews and film discussion here. I’m not changing this to a “movie blog,” but since this is my blog and I can’t shut up about this stuff, here we are. I’m calling them Spoilerific because I will totally wreck the endings of every movie I review, so don’t bitch to me later; you’ve been warned. Today I’m going to discuss why Hostel I is a brilliant genre piece (in the genere of “torture porn”) and Hostel II is a damn near perfect sequel.
Actually, they aren’t a movie and it’s sequel as much as a single film with overlapping plots. Like how the Lord of the Rings trilogy actually makes up one (ass-numbingly long) movie. However, the Hostel films put together only run nine minutes longer than one of the Rings movies. At 94 minutes apiece, back to back is doable, even for someone like me (who has the attention span of a ferret on crack.) The question being, can you take that much torture for three hours?
Hostel is (obviously) not for the faint of heart. It is lavish in the creative ways it shows suffering. Make no mistake; this movie defines torture porn. But it’s more visceral than how much blood they can pour on the screen (though according to IMDb, they went through 150 gallons in the first movie alone). Parts of the movie were filmed at a mental hospital in Prague. The wing they filmed in had been closed for more than 50 years, and (again, according to IMDb) was the place where the most severely disturbed patients were kept. Supposedly Eli Roth had a string quartet playing live to make the sets less creepy.
Seriously? A location that creeped out Eli Roth? That’s hardcore. The place is horrifying, and the atmosphere is powerful. The dirt and grime and age and rust are real, and it feels much more authentic. It’s the difference between real effects and CGI; this is a real building with real walls and real chains, and thus is not only more convincing but more frightening. Outside of the slaughterhouse feels just as authentic; the locations they chose in the Czech Republic look at once beautiful and imposingly foreign. The use of locals as extras and real street kids playing the gang further adds to the credibility.
The movies edge on being xenophobic; the second more than the first. In the first film, only two of the victims we see are American. The rest is a fairly reasonable ethnic mix; a little shy on dark skin, but with a lot of European diversity. Which I find rather refreshing; both films are refreshingly short on tokenism. Also, the victims are not all movie-star gorgeous, nor are they teenagers. They are all thin, if that matters, but I’d just as soon not see how they torture a fatty anyway. The America-centric angle really only shows up when the American victims command higher prices.
Which leads us to the plot. These movies center around an exclusive international group called “Elite Hunting,” where the obscenely wealthy can pay for the privilege of torturing and killing a human. They run a luxurious hostel that uses stunning, model-sexy women (and men) to lure party-seeking international travelers, who are subsequently abducted and sold as victims. Each member must kill their victim and must be tattooed with their logo: a bloodhound. There is a local gang of shockingly dangerous street children that act as mercenaries for Elite, though their loyalty can be bought easily (usually with bubble gum).
Our first crop of victims is a trio of bachelors. Josh, the closeted homosexual, Oli, the divorced Icelander, and Paxton, the good-looking hero-type. We also have a pair of Japanese girls, Yuki and Kana, but this movie is definitely about the men. I don’t cite this as a flaw because the girls will get their turn too. The boys are there for drugs and sex, visiting several hash bars and brothels, and everyone takes part. It’s decadent and illicit and plenty graphic; this movie does not skimp on the porn half of “torture porn” and has plenty of titty. Roth was criticized for the amount of female nudity (and lack of corresponding dick shots), but naked dick gets its screentime in the second movie anyway, so I don’t find this a fault. Eventually, the boys are coaxed onto a train headed to the undocumented hostel by a Russian man named Alexei.
Oli is mostly just looking to get laid; he’s been married for eight years and has a little girl and this seems to be his “How Oli Got His Groove Back” vacation. Didn’t work out the way he planned, obviously, and he’s the first to go. Eythor Gujonsson’s performance makes for a really likeable, charismatic guy that you really get to know in his short time he’s onscreen; you’re almost sorry when you see his decapitated head.
This is another nice touch, especially in the first movie. It’s a deliciously slow build to the graphic torture. You catch glimpses of the slaughterhouse from the very beginning, but we don’t actually see what happens to Oli and Yuki. We just see Oli’s head, and see Yuki screaming in the distance, and eventually having her toe cut off. You get a chance to imagine what horrible things are happening, and between the hints and the atmosphere, it brings a really well constructed sense of foreboding.
Just like the gore gets more intense with each victim, we learn more about each one as we go. Josh is struggling; he hasn’t come out to anyone and is desperately trying to be “one of the guys.” He meets a nameless Dutch Businessman on the train to the hostel, who at first horrifies Josh by putting a hand on his thigh. Later, the Businessman saves him from the Bubble Gum gang, and the two share a drink, wherein the Businessman confesses that he too is a closeted homosexual. This is a surprisingly powerful exchange. Josh, further trying to closet, has sex with one of the two women he and Paxton met at the hostel. It is awkward and difficult to watch, as the conflicting emotions play across his face. It is additionally difficult to watch when Josh wakes up handcuffed to a chair in the slaughterhouse and is killed by the same Dutch Businessman. Josh’s torture scene is far more graphic than anything we’ve seen so far, but it is still pretty brief. It’s just the beginning of the crescendo of this movie.
Paxton is brought to the slaughterhouse, where he sees the Dutch Businessman dissecting Josh’s corpse (along with lots of heart-stopping glimpses into other torture chambers). He is then tortured by the least convincing bad guy in the entire two-movie story. Don’t get me wrong, the torture is magnificent and gory, but the German Surgeon comes off almost like a cartoon Nazi. He’s scary, particularly with the creepy way he gasps for breath and pops his jaw, but he’s a caricature instead of a character, and it stands out against the better-developed others. He also manages to accidentally cut through Paxton’s bonds along with his fingers, and then slips in blood and cuts his own leg off allowing Paxton to shoot him. I guess it’s the least implausible way for Paxton to make his great escape, but it’s still not the film’s strongest moment. I was not at all sorry to see the German Surgeon go.
Paxton’s escape is suitably gruesome and elaborate, including a ride hidden in a pile of dismembered corpses (including Josh’s), pretending to be a client instead of a victim (and subsequently rescuing Kana from a coked-up Rick Hoffman in a very entertaining cameo), bribing the bubble gum gang, and running down Alexei and the two women who lured the group to the Hostel. Once at the train station, the severely disfigured Kana catches a glimpse of her reflection and immediately throws herself in front of an oncoming train, which allows Paxton to board another train to escape. Just when you think the movie’s over, you realize the Dutch Businessman is on the same train. Paxton gets in a very satisfying revenge killing before his final escape. Unless you watch the Director’s Cut, which has a wildly unsatisfying conclusion and doesn’t fit into the second movie. So if you have the option, definitely go for the theatrical ending.
The second movie picks up minutes later, with Paxton being questioned about the Dutch Businessman’s death. But oh, wait, that’s just a nightmare; really he’s living in seclusion with his girlfriend, and is decapitated immediately after explaining that he’s certain “they” will find him. Guess he wasn’t just paranoid after all, presumably dead girlfriend. Back to Slovakia to meet up with our next victims; a trio of girls. This time we have Beth, who is smart, temperamental and secretly an heiress to an outrageous fortune, Whitney, the “slutty blonde” who is surprisingly tough, and introverted but irritatingly pretentious Lorna.
This movie skips the descent into decadent horror that the first movie gave us by showing us much more of Elite Hunting’s clientel. We see the bidding wars as pictures of the three American girls (plus Viktor Krum from Harry Potter) flash across cel phones all over the world. We then meet over-the-top macho Todd, who purchases Whitney and Beth for himself and his timid friend Stuart. These two are interesting foils. Todd is essentially a retread of Rick Hoffman’s character in the first one, but Stuart really goes on a journey here. He is skittish and hesitant about Elite Hunting; not really wanting to be there but feeling pressured. He is, in essence, Josh from the first movie (though there isn’t anything to suggest Stuart is gay; I may just be prejudiced by Roger Bart’s roles in The Producers and The Stepford Wives). You see Stuart’s uncertainty in particular when he meets up with Beth at a village party (nicely mirroring how Josh meets the Dutch Businessman in the first film), and again when it’s time for him to get his tattoo.
Back to our victims; Lorna is incredibly easily lured away from the group and wakes up hanging upside-down over a marble tub. This movie doesn’t bother easing us into the tortures at all. A woman (aptly named Mrs. Bathory) slices at Lorna with a scythe, bathing in her blood. It is deeply disturbing, particularly her almost sexual enjoyment. It also echoes the German Surgeon from the first film in its lack of development (though she is less overdone) and in its particularly creepy tone (grading on a hell of a curve, of course). Beth and Whitney, meanwhile, connect with Axelle, this movie’s amalgamation of Alexei and the two Russian women in the first film.
All our victims are relaxing at a glorious hot springs spa, where Beth falls asleep. When she wakes, the beautiful outdoor pool has become an eerie nightmare of steam and empty docks. She manages to go over the wall and escape, only to be attacked by the Bubble Gum Gang. Axelle saves her and takes her to a lavish house, owned by Sasha (who has been revealed to also be the owner of Elite Hunting). Beth tries to escape but ends up in a trophy room of human heads, featuring Paxton’s previously removed cranium. So it’s back to the slaughterhouse, where Whitney (who we did not see get taken) wakes up in a makeup chair. She bites an old lady’s face off to escape, but obviously doesn’t get far. She ends up with Todd, who accidentally lobotomizes her with a circular saw. He’s so horrified by what he’s done that he tries to leave (in a bombastic rage). This guy is so obviously going to wuss out at the end that he might as well be a cop a week from retirement, or that guy in the foxhole talking about his girlfriend back home. I forgive the predictability because it is incredibly validating when he gets torn apart by dogs. For breach of contact.
Stuart and Beth’s final interaction is just brutal. At first he is horrified that the girl chained to the chair is the girl he was shyly flirting with the night before, and cries with her as he explains how unlikely escape is. At the same time, employees of Elite Hunting are knocking on cell doors to offer a “special deal” on the badly incapacitated Whitney. As they make the rounds, we get a few peeks into other torture chambers, including a cameo by Ruggero Deodato, the director of the infamous Cannibal Holocoust, who is elegantly dining on cuts of meat from the legs of Viktor Krum. His Quidditch will suffer for that, I’m betting.
Back in the other cell, Stuart loses it as all the darkness and rage he’s been repressing pours out, particularly when he see’s Tod’s mangled corpse being disposed of. When he is offered Whitney, he accepts and kills her quickly with a machete. When he returns for Beth, she manages to seduce him into untying her. She gets in a few good hits of her own before screaming for Sasha, demanding that she be allowed to buy her freedom by becoming a client. When she is told she must kill to become a member, she unceremoniously cuts Stuart’s junk off at the root and announces he can bleed to death, receives her tattoo and leaves. As a parting shot, she works in tandem with the Bubble Gum gang and beheads Axelle as a final bit of vengeance.
So, there you have it, a web of deceit and money, sex and evil, drugs and death. I love how much we get to know these people as they’re picked off – the performances are well executed and believable. I especially loved bad-ass Beth, who I think deserves a seat up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor as a female protagonist that absolutely holds her own. The effects throughout the film are breathtakingly realistic, and there are enough parts that everyone will be skeeved out by something. There are plenty of moments that make me kind of nauseous just to think about. But it accomplishes all it set out to do and throws in plenty of twists and shocks along the way. Would I recommend it? Of course, my horse!