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Friday, June 22, 2007

Hostel Part 2 (2007)

Eli Roth's Hostel Part 2 could have been a repeat of the first Hostel installment. The young Splat Pack director could have just tortured young people for 90 minutes and made millions of dollars. Fortunately, however, there is a little more to Hostel Part 2 than just formulaic gore.

The protagonists are Whitney (Bijou Phillips), Beth (Lauren German) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo), three American co-eds studying abroad in Italy. They meet Axelle (Vera Jordanova) who persuades the girls to join her on a spa vacation in Slovakia. They check into the hostel, the clerk scans their passports; this is where the fun begins. He uploads their photos to a website and an auction begins with an American named Todd (Richard Burgi) winning Beth as a gift for his friend Stuart (Roger Bart). This auction scene, which features businessmen all around the world bidding on the girls using their PDAs and cellular phones, manages to be hilarious, terrifying and essential to the plot, all at the same time. Unfortunately, the rest of the film struggles to maintain this balance.

The biggest problem with Hostel Part 2 is that it can't seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It lingers in limbo between horror and comedy, a gap successfully traversed in the past by films like Evil Dead 2 and Sleepy Hollow. As a comedy, Hostel Part 2 works very well. The trouble with mixing horror and comedy is that the humorous elements have the potential to dilute the impact of the horror elements. While it is possible to mix the two seamlessly (The Little Shop of Horrors, Theatre of Blood, An American Werewolf in London) Hostel Part 2 never quite finds the right balance. The film's comic tone distracts from what few real scares there are. In addition, there is a certain self-consciousness in Hostel Part 2; this doesn't look like a horror movie, it looks like a commercial designed to look like a horror movie.

For all of its awkwardness, however, I should stress that I really did enjoy this film. I love the fact that the protagonists, particularly Beth, are sympathetic and three-dimensional. I love the fact that Hostel Part 2 shows us the mechanism behind the Elite Hunting operation. I love the fact that we get to see what kind of people pay for the chance to use its sevices (interestingly, both Bart and Burgi play characters on "Desperate Housewives," ABC's own account of the evils that dwell beneath a seductive surface). And I love the fact that money, the force that fuels the mechanics of the film, is the only force that can save Our Heroes. Hostel Part 2 isn't a slasher picture so much as it is a bloody meditation on international finance.


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