Me: "April, why would you give 'Hostel: Part II' an A?"
April: "It used irony perfectly. In Hostel we see something you don't stereotypically see in horror/gore movies; perfect saturated irony."
True horror movies are odd beasts. The best ones produce a unique feeling in the gut, a trembling little voice that says: "What am I doing here? Why am I watching this movie? Why am I subjecting myself to this intensely unpleasant experience? A part of me really wants to get out of here."
It's the rare horror film that manages to pull it off since, as is generally known by most people, the vast majority of horror films are absolute crap - cliché-ridden, absurd, ultra-predictable crap. (Those films might generate a similar sentiment, though the voice will be more of profound annoyance instead of deep dread.) I can report, though, that both the original "Hostel" and its sequel somehow managed to be the former voice rather the latter.
The first "Hostel" was released in January 2006. I was quite eager to see it because it was the sophomore effort of Eli Roth, whose first picture, 2003's "Cabin Fever" was a very entertaining horror film. "Cabin Fever" had an interesting tone, blending lots of blood with traditional, old school '80s horror elements as well as lighter, more humorous moments. "Hostel" promised to be a much more serious, hardcore effort. The original's premise: American backpackers in Europe are lured to a hostel in Slovakia where they are kidnapped and taken to a private "hunting club" where "clients" pay to torture and murder.
There were many things that made "Hostel" special. One was the distinct trick that it played, a particularly rare one in cinema: the indicting of the audience. In "Hostel" we're immediately given three characters that we absolutely loath with a capital L - two young American men and their Icelandic friend. They're exploring Europe with a singular mission in mind: to have as much exploitive, meaningless sex as possible. From the very beginning of the film we're all thinking the same thing: let the torture begin! Let's have these jerks get what's coming to them! And then, when the torture actually does begin, suddenly we're no longer celebrating. It's suddenly that "intensely unpleasant experience." The horror is horrible, not some kind of entertainment.
"Hostel: Part II," as good sequels do, takes the set-up of the original and twists it, showing us different angles of the original idea. This time our protagonists are a bit more sympathetic instead of the ugly Americans of the first. Beth (Lauren German,) Whitney (Bijou Phillips,) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) are college art students studying in Rome. Beth is a rich heiress, Whitney something of a party girl, and Lorna a homesick, somewhat nerdy good girl - the typecast role Matarazzo has played so well her entire career. Like in the first film several characters work to lure the victims to the hostel.
When the young women check into their hostel the clerk takes their passports. He takes Beth's and scans it into a computer. Her image is then sent all over the world. Rich men and women look at their cell phones and proceed to bid on her - ponying up tens of thousands of dollars for the chance to torture her to death. The man who wins the auction flies to Slovakia with a friend who's a bit nervous about the whole thing. The film will follow them too as they meet their future victim and prepare to do what they've paid for.
Ultimately what horror films devolve into is the escape. The victims are in some horrible situation, there's some crazed killer(s) after them, and they must flee. And, oh, does Roth cook up one hell of a spot for his damsels in great distress to attempt their getaway. His script is also such that he sets up an expected exit. He characterizes certain characters so that we begin to piece together what we expect will happen. And then he subverts everything, giving us a conclusion unlike any other horror movie.
There's one other matter that needs to be noted as well. It's both a point of strange admiration and a warning: I have no idea how on earth this movie got an R. There are several moments that take the hypothetical envelope and shred it. But anyone even considering seeing the film probably already knew to expect that.
Me: "How is it 'perfect saturated irony?'"
April: "I think the ending in particular reeks of psychological irony, forcing everyone to think and make connections."