|Hostel: Part II|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Saturday, 01 March 2008|
Later, on spring break in Italy, art students Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips), and the virginal Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) are on a train when they are accosted by three aggressive Italian thugs. The three girls bump into Axelle (Vera Jordanva), an artist’s model, who appeared in their class that morning, and tell her about their unnerving experience and that they are anxious to get away. Axelle tells them about a place in Slovakia with legendary, relaxing hot springs, so they all change trains and head there. Checking into the local hostel, the three turn in their passports to the front desk clerk (Milda Havlas). In the back office, the clerk scans the passport photos and emails them off to the underground murder-for-pay organization seen in the first “Hostel.”
Almost immediately, the pictures are sent around the world to jaded businessmen and women who begin high-stakes bidding for the Americans. Winning the bid are Todd (Richard Burgi) and his somewhat reluctant friend, Stuart (Roger Bart), who head for Slovakia to claim their dark prizes. Meanwhile, the three girls encounter the local child gang, known as the Bubblegum gang, and that night they join in the festivities at the local harvest festival. Also at the festival are Todd and Stuart, who surreptitiously watch the girls they bought in the auction, who are, of course, unaware of what’s in store for them. Pushing the boundaries, Stuart works his way through the crowd and ends up striking up a conversation with Beth, much to Todd’s chagrin. At the same time, Whitney hooks up with Miroslav (Stanislav Ianevski), and surprisingly, Lorna hooks up with one of the townsfolk and heads off on a rowboat down the river.
The mood of the evening shifts, however, when Lorna’s beau beaches the boat and attacks her, knocking her unconscious. Lorna awakens to find herself naked, suspended upside by chains, her hands and feet bound and her mouth gagged. Unfortunately for her, the older woman who won her is either Elizabeth Bathory (the character is listed in the credits as Mrs. Bathory) or someone with the same obsession. Bathory, of course, is the infamous Hungarian countess who murdered hundreds of virgin women, and is rumored to have bathed in their blood.
The next day, Beth, Whitney, Miroslav and Axelle unwind at the relaxing hot springs, and (in a creepy, dreamlike sequence) Beth, having closed her eyes for what seems like seconds, finds the mist-shrouded place completely deserted, her friends nowhere to be seen, and is pursued by thugs. She’s rescued by a passing car, driven by Axelle, who takes her to her nearby home for safety, but Beth soon discovers that Axelle has other motives and soon, she and Whitney each finds themselves trussed up in separate rooms in the macabre torture dungeon, with Roger and Stuart ready to play out their violent fantasies.
Thanks to the success of the first film, “Hostel: Part II” displays a larger budget, an edgier look and a more elaborate and ambitious story. The result is a mixed bag. The cast is much more accomplished this time around, with Richard Burgi and Roger Bart delivering excellent performances in roles that require them to be believable while playing dark, callous characters who also reveal moments of charm and black humor. The two performances anchor the film; one wishes the filmmakers had made them the film’s leads, as the movie’s focus is split between them and the girls, making it feel diffuse and imbalanced.
One of the stated goals was to delve more deeply into the whole murderous organization (called “Elite Hunting”) and reveal more of how it operates. The scope of the organization, the number of people it employs, and the breadth of the elaborate facility weakens the sense of verisimilitude that the first film had and turns Elite Hunting into something from a James Bond film— S.P.E.C.T.R.E. for the snuff crowd. Milan Knazko plays Sasha, the head of the organization and he’s terrific, the model of an ice-cold crime boss for whom money is everything. The prevalence of the Elite Hunting logo throughout the film, becomes a bit ludicrous, given this is supposed to be a secret, underground operation. While a few shots indicate that the dungeons are located at the same dilapidated factory as in “Hostel,” they don’t match and seem far too cavernous to be believable.
The violent set pieces are extremely nasty and unpleasant, much more in keeping with what the first film promised but didn’t quite deliver. The killing of Lorna is excessively cruel and repellant. It would send all but the most hardcore horror fans screaming for the exits. A graphic castration sequence later in the film is of the most realistic scenes of its type and should prove quite hard to watch for anyone with a Y chromosome.
It would be hypocritical to complain that the film is too nasty, since one of my grievances with the first “Hostel” was that it wasn’t intense enough, but it lacks a relatable audience figure, and as a result, seems to wallow in sadism and extreme violence to no purpose. This time around, there’s no suspenseful rescue of any of the other captives, who are left to their doom, and there’s an attempt to echo the poetic justice that ended the first film, but it’s a small effort and doesn’t feel as if it redresses any kind of karmic balance.
There are two unnecessarily prolonged sequences that are meant to be suspenseful but end up feeling dull. One is the long take of the “Elite Hunting” goons lighting candles in preparation for Lorna’s death scene, while she is suspended overhead. The second is a sequence where Sasha menaces the Bubblegum gang and, after measuring them up, shoots one of them in the head. This particular sequence is completely pointless (no real motivation is needed for the Bubblegum gang to join Beth in her revenge at the conclusion), illogical, dull and should have been cut.
Director Roth includes welcome cameo appearances by Ruggero Deodato (director of the legendary “Cannibal Holocaust”), cast appropriately enough, as the “Italian Cannibal” in a baroque tableau within the torture chambers, and Edwige Fenech, star of several Italian gialli, in a small role as an art teacher in a non-horror scene early in the action.
Director of photography Milan Chadima works with a much darker palette than the first “Hostel.” The Willy Wonka-esque Slovakian village and the early Italian scenes are extremely bright and sunny, but there’s a predominant amount of night sequences. According to the commentary, the larger budget, up to $10 million from the original’s $4 million budget, enabled them to shoot more night scenes. Additionally, the film has gone through the Digital Intermediate process, which has given the final film a grainier texture and increased the contrast. As a result, it has a grimier, edgier appearance, more in keeping with the story than the first had, but the look is fairly common, typical of music videos, television commercials, and films made within the last few years. The Blu-ray disc transfer is excellent. The imagery is rich and occasionally displays pin-sharp levels of detail in the wide shots and accurately retains the grain, as intended. The PCM 5.1 track is excellent. The mix is more intense and involving than in the first “Hostel” and terrific use is made of the surround channels to expand the story space to off-screen areas, as in the fun scene early in the picture, where the audio follows a motorcycle deliveryman as he drives outside of the frame, dismounts and enters from the side.
The extras for the Blu-ray release of “Hostel: Part II” include all of the contents from the standard definition release and are plentiful but not quite as exhaustive as the bonus materials included with the first film. It has one less commentary, than the first film, and the series of three in-depth production featurettes is absent, as is the poster/promotional artwork gallery.
The commentary by Roth and Quentin Tarantino isn’t as strong this time around, as it’s quite clear that Tarantino had much less to do with this film than with the first. The actor commentary is fine and funny-- Richard Burgi seems like a real pip to work with. It’s a shame that Roger Bart wasn’t able to participate in the commentary track, as his and Burgi’s off-screen rapport sounds like the two would have played off each other quite well. Lauren German and the other actors are amusing, and Roth, of course, leads the commentary. The “Hostel: Part II: A Legacy of Torture” international television special offers a tour through the actual museum of torture that was seen in the first film, and showcases vicious-looking devices used during the European witch trials to extract confessions and punish prisoners. The menu sound loop becomes grating, very quickly which makes the lack of a play-all feature on the deleted scenes an irritating omission. Trailers and TV spots were absent from the first film’s video release, and that’s also the case here. Irritatingly, trailers for other, unrelated films are included, though.