13 June 2007



When I learned that Eli Roth was planning on a continuation of Hostel, his exceptionally whimsical satire about the travails of Young America, I could hardly contain my delight. True wit is a rare commodity in modern filmmaking, and Roth's wry metaphor for the innocent abroad finding knowledge, in the form of having his Achilles tendons sliced, still strikes me as the current generation's nearest equivalent to Wodehouse.

So imagine my surprise - a good surprise, I suppose - that Hostel, Part II should abandon the Waughian fripperies of the first for a study of feminine suffering so elemental in its raw anguish that I find myself looking to the works of Ibsen or Strindberg for the proper analogue.

Herein, we have three young women, Pretty Brunette (Lauren German), Tarty Blonde (Bijou Phillips) and Non-Pretty Brunette Who Is Therefore An Object Of Perfectly Deserved Mockery And Derision (Heather Matarazzo), or Ugly Geek-Bitch for short. Perhaps looking to assert themselves as morally, intellectually and sexually independent agents in a male-dominant society, they are travelling through Europe and painting nude men. On paper. Making paintings of nude men. Not putting paint on nude men.

In Rome, they encounter a Beautiful Evil Lesbian (Vera Jordanova) who tells them of a wonderful spa in Slovakia, the same country where the young men of Hostel went for cheap ecstasy and easy women.* It is part of the film's canny exploration of gender roles that the boys wanted sex and the girls want to relax and be pampered, and I think we can all agree that Roth has quite the perceptive eye on how men and women are fundamentally incompatible.

Intriguingly, while the opening scenes strongly imply that the story takes place midway into summer vacation, the small Slovakian town that the girls arrive in is just gearing up for its harvest festival, a dead giveaway that it's now early autumn. The metaphor here is profound: it is always the beginning of fall, even for young American women. Making the internal external in this fashion is sublime in the fashion of middle-period Bergman, although I'm sure we don't need another encomium pointing out the seemingly inexhaustible similarities between Eli Roth and Ingmar Bergman.

Meanwhile, we are given a second plot: two Americans, Large Bastardy Asshole (Richard Burgi) and Medium Weaselly Bastard (Roger Bart) have just won killing privileges for Pretty Brunette in a fierce on-line bidding war. They represent Masculine Dominance, and they do it very well - after all, who among us with a penis can truly say that he doesn't think, at least once per day, about buying the rights to torture a teenager to death for $70,000? I know I was thinking about it all day at work. But more than adding a frisson of realism, what Asshole and Bastard do for the film is focus our attention on the authoritarian male, not at all unlike the clergymen who dot the canon of Carl Th. Dreyer, and consider the ways that all females suffer at the hands of all men, and how they would all like to chop of all of our cocks with gardening shears.

Nowhere is this theme of men dominating the spiritual core of the feminine clearer than the scene in which Ugly Geek-Bitch is tortured by a middle-aged woman. I assume. I haven't quite figured out how to fit that scene into Roth's otherwise totally coherent schema.

I shan't, of course, give away the plot of the movie, because that would be rude, but I did think it was very smart of Roth to make the structure almost completely identical to the first film. It keeps the audience from being confused, and if we were confused, we might miss out on the finer details of his gynocentric explication of suffering. I also want to mention that it was brilliant the way he kept one significant death offscreen, to remind us of the ways that violence against women is often swept "off" of society's "screen," because it's not glamorous enough. I also liked the scene where the 8-year-olds played soccer with a person's head, because it was so funny, and it is I think important to have funny moments to offset the otherwise stifling grimness of a story like this, with its stress on an absent God who views men as his toys, and views women not at all. Some critics obviously enjoy stories like that, but the rest of us can't always deal with the harsh realities of life in movies like that. There is beauty, but there is also terrible painful Knowing in these films of our modern moral philosophers: Robert Bresson, Lars von Trier, John Cassavetes, and greater than all of them bound in one, the great Eli Roth.


*In the process, leading several hundred druggy tourists to this very blog. I hope that the new magic phrase will be "beautiful lesbian ecstasy," and any Google-bombs to that effect will be rewarded.


Pat "Souljacker" King said...

Roger BART? As in, Carmen Ghia in the musicalized Producers? As in frigging SNOOPY in You're A Good Man? I think I just died inside.

Also: this is the best review anybody could possibly write for this movie.

norbizness said...

Positive side-effect of this flop: has destroyed most of the credibility of the regular contributors at Ain't it Cool News. Not the proprietor; he had none to begin with.

Joe Valdez said...

This is the best review I've read in a while. Mad props, Tim. Instead of doing what almost every other critic or blogger out there was doing - rushing to prove to everyone else that they, in fact, hated this movie most - you kept your sense of humor and had the audacity to report that you actually enjoyed some of it.

Norbizness, I don't think that this film's box office reception is the final word on anything. Horror movies are still the best investment in town, and I'm sure Hostel: Part II will make its costs back several times over on DVD alone.

Only time will tell whether the movies championed by the fanboys, like Snakes on a Plane or Grindhouse linger somewhere in pop culture or truly disappear from sight.