Dir: Eli Roth
Starring: Lauren German, Roger Bart, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips, Richard Burgi and Vera Jordanova
WARNING THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED !!!
Three American art students are travelling around Europe and at the advice of the seductive model Axelle (Jordanova), visit an all too familiar town with a dark secret in Slovakia. At the same time, two American businessmen have submitted two successful bids for two of the girls and have become the latest members of the Elite Hunting Club.
With the strong foundations of the original having left a good number of unanswered questions, Roth used these as a springboard to spread his artistic capabilities and create not only a superior sequel but one that completely surpassed the original.
Roth opens up the film with an immediate continuation of the story with Paxton ( Jay Hernandez), the lone survivor of the horrors of Hostel. Shockingly and with the bold audacity that sets Roth apart, he plays a brilliantly savvy trick with audience expectations, subverting them within the first 15 minutes as Paxton is casually offed and his head posted to the leader of Elite Hunting Club, Sasha (Milan Knazko). All bets are off as to what direction the film could go to next and it becomes a joyous rollercoaster ride.
When introduced to our new lead trio of Beth (Germain), Whitney (Phillips) and Lorna (Matarazzo), it would be fair to say that they seem to have the stereotypical traits of the ‘final girl’, the brash one and the slightly dippy one but as with so many of the characters that Roth has created, there is far much more substance to them. In Beth, Germain develops a genuinely layered character, with all the outwards appearances of being mild but within is a steely resolve to survive. Throughout the film, it is clear that she is not a character who’ll simply lie down and quit, she is bold and assertive in her attempts to escape from the EHC and ultimately she proves herself to be just as cold-hearted and remorseless as those who seek to kill her.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Beth dominates the film, both Whitney and Lorna have their chances to shine. Whitney could be seen as brittle, overtly flirtatious and a tad obnoxious, but there is heart underneath her spiky exterior and also a keen sense of self-preservation. It could be said that the girls put up far more of a fight than the boys in trying to escape their fate, memorably Whitney bites off the nose of a wince-inducing creepy old makeup artist. Lorna is the total opposite, away with the faeries and with a sweet demeanour. She is real innocent, arguably the only one in the entire film, but she carries with her the tragic air that she’ll be first to go.
Whilst never directly involved in any killing, Axelle is, without question the film’s most evil character. Luring the girls to follow her to the Hostel with her femme fatale charm and beauty, there is never even the slightest hint of remorse as to what she is doing. It is clear to the audience, almost from the word go that there’s something deeply suspicious about her, but with some brilliant acting from Jordanova, it is never completely clear until it becomes all too late for Beth. Upon having her true nature discovered, her attitude is perfectly summed up by a stomach-churning non-committal shrug.
Hostel Part II puts a brilliantly intriguing spin on the original film’s structure as the audience also get to follow two of the torturers in Todd (Burgi) and Stuart (Bart). In fleshing them out as characters and in one dialogue, describing just why they’re going ahead with the torture, Roth disquietingly makes them ‘real’ people, further emphasising the terror of the unlimited potential of man to be inhumane to man.
In deliberately making them polar opposites of aggressive and meek, Roth sets up another brilliant subversion of character expectation that he first started with Cabin Fever. When it comes to the actual torture, the bullish Todd has a complete meltdown whilst Stuart, who is completely depicted as being the potential good guy to save the day slowly and frighteningly, becomes a sadistic fuck. It’s a brutally dark change of character that is conveyed superbly by Bart, encapsulating the inner rage of the put upon husband breaking out violently.
One of the most notable differences between the sequel and first film is the overall style of the film is far grander and almost operatic in the sense that all the elements from the first film are still present, yet presented in higher definition with everything turned up to 11. The cinematography and production design is simply gorgeous throughout, a particular highlight being the harvest festival scene. The numerous bonfires, scaffolds of hay with harvest vegetables illuminated by rows of string lights are deliberately used to enchant and brilliantly disguise the hidden horror beneath. It is interesting as well to look at the various weapons, masked characters and even the violent puppet show at the festival that cleverly alludes to the entire town being in on the conspiracy.
The pinnacle of the film’s more operatic style is demonstrated as the denouement starts to come together as the girls are kidnapped and the men are getting ready. A brilliant sense of a showdown is evoked by the film’s sole use of a soundtrack song and the slow-motion montage becomes a piece of twisted and yet graceful art.
This newfound sense of style extends to the kills also. There may be surprisingly few and the chambers may be grander than the first film, but they are still full of the same deadly weapons and what onscreen deaths there are, they’re executed with a grand artistic flourish. The film’s piece de resistance and most infamous moment is the Countess Bathory inspired blood bath. As we see a gagged Lorna, the camera slowly moves until we see that she is upside down and it is evident that a kill of a very different kind is coming.
It is often remarkable that the well of the ways in which to kill characters on-screen has yet to run dry and here, the disturbing pleasure the ‘Countess’ takes from her meticulous slicing with a scythe is genuinely terrifying. What really sets the scene apart is that Roth created a genuinely loveable character in Lorna, she is not just gore fodder and as a result, the audience feels the horror of her untimely end with far greater intensity.
The key element that makes the sequel stand out is a far lighter tone and at times, it is incredibly funny, in a blacker than black comedy way of course. There are moments of skin-crawling awkwardness as Beth and Stuart, her soon to be torturer, start amicably chatting, all the while he has his EHC pager in his hand. Whilst the new horrifying glimpses of the various ways in which we see victims suffering are still shocking, they all have an element to them that makes them so over the top, it’s hard to suppress a smile.
This is best demonstrated with one torturer carefully dissecting his victim to operatic accompaniment and then sitting down at a table with wine and a plate with his selection of ‘choice cuts’. The ending too, is delightfully tongue in cheek, after Beth decapitates Axelle, the Bubblegum Gang play football with her head. Dark yes, but light relief in what is otherwise a surprisingly bleak film.
It is clear that the general xenophobia towards Americans at the time was a theme that Roth was keen to restate in the sequel, summed up in both the general behaviour towards the lead characters and in particular, the desk clerk’s chilling line of “American…good!”. Where the sequel comes into its own is in the bringing of the 1% subtext very much to the fore. Arguably the most terrifying scene in the film is a montage of wealthy bidders all trying to secure the girls for torture as if they were bidding on eBay. The looks of disappointment, cold indifference and even sick joy perfectly encapsulate the most frightening element of the film.
Whilst the first film spelt it out more in blood, Hostel Part II presents and stark and unflinching depiction of a total vacuum of humanity. The EHC workers take great delight in what they do, the recurring Bubblegum Gang willingly sacrifice one of their own and Sasha dispatches him with no remorse whatsoever. Despite the film’s lighter tone and the fact that our heroine manages to escape with her life, this raw horror is still very much present and fundamentally, with Beth having to join the Club by killing Stuart and use her wealth to escape, evil still wins.
Hostel Part II is arguably a perfect blueprint for how to correctly craft a horror sequel. Whilst keeping the basic framework of the original, the film expands organically to give a wider and infinitely more sinister scope to the story of the Elite Hunting Club. Perhaps the element that tips the film into the stratosphere can largely be equivocated to the fact that whilst the violence, grit and raw horror remains, the film’s grander and more operatic style adds an element of dare it be said…fun. Finding a seamless equilibrium between the depiction of a living nightmare and a pacey and at times, funny romp, Roth created a very special sequel indeed, the quality of which has yet to be even remotely approached.
Verdict: Roth’s masterpiece, one of the best horror films of the past decade and by far and away one of the best horror sequels of all time. 10/10
P.S On a personal note, Hostel Part II was the very first 18 rated film I saw in the cinema, so it will always have a very special place in my heart. I also still have the ticket, in a frame…yes I know I’m unbelievably cool…