*. The benefit of low expectations. I’d heard some bad word of mouth on this one, and it was a box office bomb (Roth claimed piracy had an effect on the bottom line). Not expecting much, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s nothing special, but it’s nowhere near the dog I’d been anticipating.
*. Another three commentaries on the DVD, all featuring director Eli Roth. He begins his solo commentary with this: “A lot of people ask me why I have so many commentaries on my DVDs,” but “the point is . . . there’s a lot to say when you make a film.” He also says that only film critics would listen to all of the commentaries.
*. Relieved that I’m not a professional film critic, I didn’t listen to all of them. I can say that Roth’s is pretty good and worth a listen.
*. Among the interesting points Roth makes is that what drives “Hostel II really is my disgust with the Bush administration and with the fact that these oil guys were getting so rich off the death of Americans” in Iraq. I’ll admit, that’s not the first thing that came to my mind. He also ties in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Hostel II is thus “a very politically charged film.”
*. Also important, and part of the same political angle, is the idea that whoever has the most money gets to decide who lives and who dies. The film is, in short, a class critique as well as a criticism of capitalism and the “corporate-killer mentality.” The elite hunters are a homicidal 1%.
*. It’s interesting that according to Roth this is how the movie was immediately understood in Europe, whereas in America critics were more hung up on the violence. Class in America has always been a taboo subject.
*. Note, however, that the political message isn’t a simple one. At one point in the commentary Roth also speaks of how he wanted to describe a descent to a “primal place” of rape and murder: “it’s terrifying to think that every single human is capable, that all of us are capable, of killing another person under the right circumstances.” By the”right circumstances” what he means is if they have enough money. It’s really turning Wes Craven’s point in The Last House on the Left (about which Craven said the exact same thing) on its head. Homicidal instincts aren’t activated by threats to one’s own (or one’s family’s) existence, but rather arise from the removal of all restraint. It’s like Roth is re-making Caligula, or some tale from the later Roman Empire, where the id has been set free to prey on the innocent.
*. On the other hand, the official report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib arrived at the banal conclusion that the torturers had behaved the way they had “simply because they could.” So perhaps the hunters really are the normal ones.
*. Another thing complicating the political message is the fact that Beth is ultimately saved by her vast wealth, which in turn allows her to join the international predator class. And she is the hero. The point of getting rich then is not that you can beat the corporate killers but that you can join their party.
*. The opening struck me as pretty standard for a horror-film sequel, killing off the survivor of the original a la Friday the Thirteenth Part 2. But it’s not a suspenseful sequence, which in turn foreshadows how much of the movie will play out. Roth is more into shocks this time than building a sense of growing dread. Part of this, I think, was unavoidable given that the plot just repeats the original Hostel verbatim.
*. Repetition with a single difference. The boys are now girls. Is this “empowering”? Maybe. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling that they played it safe.
*. In some ways it is quite transgressive. The shooting of the bubblegum kid, the castration sequence, and the scene where they play soccer with the decapitated head are pretty shocking. But the girls don’t get abused much. Poor Lorna has the worst time, but she meets her end Elizabeth Bathory-style at the hands of another woman. Whitney receives her one major trauma by accident and is then dispatched off camera. (I’ll confess I honestly had no idea what happened to her the first time I saw the movie.) And finally Beth isn’t tortured at all.
*. I think they wanted to avoid being too porn-y. Shocking violence is one thing, but male violence against women is a political taboo, which is something else. They didn’t want to go there.
*. I couldn’t get over how skinny Lauren German looks. I mean, she is really, really thin.
*. I guess Lorna couldn’t swim. Or use her hands to take that bag off her head.
*. I loved the bidding sequence, but overall I’m not sure spending so much time on the two American hunters was a good idea.
*. Roth wanted to get into the psychology of the clients, and they’re somewhat interesting in this regard. It’s a nice twist Roth plays with them changing polarities. But ultimately they distract our attention from the three girls, to the point where the victims almost seem secondary. And the more we see the hunters interact the more comic they seem. Both appear to be way out of their depth in the factory.
*. Whoever came up with the idea for the black bathing caps as part of the torture uniform deserves a pay bump. They look great, just sinister enough not to be silly.
*. It’s not as good a movie as the original, but judged on its own it’s better than average for the genre. It was obvious, however, that to keep the franchise going they were going to have to try something a little different.