Lukewarm Sodom
By Noel Vera

Hostel 2
Dir: Eli Roth (2007)

Eli Roth's Hostel 2, I'll have to admit, is an immense improvement over his first. Gone (for the most part) is the incomprehensibly handheld camerawork, gone (for the most part) is the Cuisinart editing; this is 120 Days of Sodom not quite as Pasolini had done it (with subtlety and vision), but maybe as a fairly competent director (uh--J. Lee Thompson? Not the director of Cape Fear! Sean S. Cunningham? Maybe) might do it, with the horror plunked frankly in medium shot on the big screen for our delectation.

Flipping the sexes so that we have women victims is an obvious try for variety; more interesting is the attempt to look into the stories of the kind of people who might want to pay money for the service--one a hardcore corporate predator, the other a more ambivalent family man. Roth's one clever plot twist is predicated on one man's attitude towards (or problems with) his wife; the rest--the faux escape that leads to a luxurious chateau, for example--is obvious and dull.

Some fuss has been made on the treatment of Heather Matarazzo like so much hung meat; actually, the scene involving her demise is a perverse variation of Countess Erzebet Bathory's practice of bathing in a virgin's blood (for younger skin), and as presented, with the magnificent Edwige Fenech writhing in sexual ecstacy, the sequence is difficult to resist--it's almost beautifully sensual (and I'm a sucker for horror with a strong sense of beauty (Bava, Argento, Cronenberg)), and easily the finest single image in the picture.

More problematic is the presentation of Matarazzo as a clueless geek virgin, hopelessly in love with the Europe in her mind and failing to see the Europe Roth has in mind--Welcome to the Dollhouse with oversized blades and fully developed breasts. Matarazzo I'm sure was kept from being uncomfortable--or at least was as uncomfortable as she was willing to undergo--but allowing herself to be so contemptuously treated, one wants to ask: does she hate herself that much? Equally mysterious is Matarazzo's refusal to participate in Solondz's Dollhouse sequel, Palindromes; both Solondz and Roth treat her like shit onscreen--what does Roth have (or do) that Solondz doesn't? *

*("Heather, I've got this real cool death scene for you; you'll be nude, people'll talk about you, and you'll look hot.**")

**If you take a good look at the scene, not really--if anyone's eroticized, it's Fenech, not Matarazzo; the poor girl just looks like a sad side of beef, ready to be carved.

Arguably the creepiest moment in the film is when the heroine finds herself alone in the spa (nice use of mist and silence there); arguably the worst is the child killing--not so much the idea of a child being killed (Sergio Leone did something similar to better effect in Once Upon a Time in the West) as the fact that Roth stretches the moment to the point of tedium. It's about this point that you realize: he doesn't seem to have much to work with in the first place, is why he works over what little he's got so thoroughly.

Maybe that's the biggest problem I have with Hostel 2, the paucity of ideas. Roth talks a great game, about how the two pictures evoke Guantanamo, how there's a political subtext to all this. There is, but not the one he's talking about--seems to me his movies are a symptom of the mindset that created Guantanamo (let's party, dude!), not a critique, and that the final impression is of an implacable world that hates Americans not because they do anything to deserve the hate, but because they're such soft, easy targets (even when we follow the torturers' story, the impression is that these are self-absorbed amateurs; by comparison Fenech and the Italian gourmand are seasoned pros).

This finally brings to mind the adage about money buying everything. Is Roth so completely cynical that he'd admit there's no real possibility of escape for his guests (an implausibility he failed to address in the previous picture) save through the pocketbook? What does this say about his political subtext--that the rich escape and live longer, the poor are power-tool fodder? And why does he feel he has to steal a plot twist from the Saw sequels?

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June 15, 2007