Friday, June 1, 2007

Dont join in the Hostel(2) its more Scarier (Review of Hostel2)

For some reason sequels always seem to get a bad rap. Yet if you really take the time to examine the sequel, specifically as it implies to genre films in the Sci-Fi and Horror vein, more often than not the sequel is far superior, in terms of story, character development, gore and suspense/thrills, to the original. Of course a lot of sequels simply suck, too.Trying to nail down why some sequels succeed and some fail is tough. One could say that some succeed due to the injection of new blood (different screenwriter, different director, different actors) which often brings a fresh, new approach to the familiar material. Yet just as many sequels done by the original team of creators have succeeded as those done by a new team and vice/versa. Basically, we could sit here and argue the merits of each for hours, but the simple fact remains, some sequels fare better because of new creative blood and others fair better thanks to old blood. You just never can tell.With Hostel: Part II the original creator is back on tap. This would be director/screenwriter/producer Eli Roth, who has actually improved upon the first Hostel film, delivering more gore, but more importantly delivering a more streamlined, and dare I say, mature spin on the slasher genre. He joins the ranks of George Miller and Sam Raimi as a wild genre director who takes his initial concept and builds upon it, giving us more refined bits of the first film, but put through a meat grinder and made a bit more palpable. Hostel was ground chuck, Hostel: Part II is top sirloin.

To be quite frank, I was not a fan of Roth's first youth hostelling exploitationer, feeling that it was a little trite, a little forced, and basically hell-bent for providing shocks over substance. Needless to say when news of Hostel: Part II came down the pike I immediately went into cynical shock, thinking that Roth and company were just out to make another quick buck bringing some half-assed schlock and awe to the Cineplex in an attempt to further placate the masses with sub-standard horror fare. Watching the dismal Turistas recently didn't do much to assuage these fears.Yet a surprising thing happened on the way to the house of slaughter: Roth completely upped his game, improved upon the original by leaps and bounds, and actually made a believer out of this crusty old nub. Following in the tradition of such classic sequels as The Devils Rejects, Evil Dead 2, and Road Warrior Roth wastes no time sinking into familiar territory, giving the audience a quick fix jolt of gore and suspense right out the gate. From there he shifts tones and goes straight to romantic Italy where three young ladies—the obnoxious hottie (Bijou Phillips), the cute and meek (Lauren German) and the geek (Heather Matarazzo) -- are studying abroad. Naturally they decide to take a break from school and head off to Prague for a weekend of debauchery. As can be expected, their plans shift a bit and they end up at everybody's favorite Slovakian hostel. You know what happens next…or at least you think you do.Part of the allure of Hostel: Part II is that for most of the film you are fairly certain you know what's going to happen. When a hot foreign chick shows up and befriends the trio on their way to Prague you just know that she's part of the whole slaughterhouse cadre. Or is she? When hot Slovakian hunks pop up and begin to seduce members of the trio you just know that they're part of the bulldog tattoo posse. Or are they? Basically, Roth tosses so many red herrings at you and hopes that some of them stick and some flop away. The result is that he invariably and very slyly sucks you into a sense of familiarity that gives you a false sense of "Hey, I know what's going on." What ends up happening is that more often than not you are turned slightly on your head. Sure, a lot of what you guess will happen eventually does happen, but it's delivered in such a smooth manner that even when you've figured something out it doesn't feel like a letdown when it actually happens.

Conversely, all the twists and turns are logical. Never once do you go "WTF?" when something happens to a character. On this level Roth is near genius as all too often in these types of films there's a twist that makes nary a lick of sense no matter which way you slice and dice it. As with the original Hostel Roth tosses in little hidden verbal cues here and there which make watching the sequel very much like unfolding a psychotic cinematic version of Where's Waldo?, except the payoff is much, much, much bloodier and much, much, much more demented.The other major tweak that Roth has done to this film is that he's more or less tossed any of the forced humor of past endeavors (think that over-the-top hillbilly shtick from Cabin Fever and the over-the-top street urchins from Hostel) to the wind, letting it flutter away in favor of more restrained and subtle (at least for Roth, which still isn't that subtle) asides of twisted wit. Granted, familiar characters are still in place delivering dry moment of goofiness (the desk clerk at the hostel, the devilish Our Gang orphans, etc.) that flow well within the context of the film and actually capture a much more accurate assimilation of those creepy Euro thrillers and chillers from the '60s and '70s with rich tongue-in-cheek appreciation.

Hostel: Part II isn't so much a horror film as it is a gore soaked thriller. In this way Roth has more or less done what James Cameron did with Aliens. Rather than remake the claustrophobic horror of Ridley Scott's Alien Cameron went straight for the gonads with an extreme action film. Here Roth has ditched the "horror" of the first film in favor of a more exact sense of modern noir and creepiness, serving up a disconcerting slow burn instead of a mallet-to-the-head shocker (don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of shocking gore in Hostel: Part II, it just comes in spaced out waves). The bottomline with this sequel is such: any horror flick steeped in Giallo tradition (with slight forays into the whole Spanish/West German lesbian vampire sub-genre) that brings Dawn Weiner back from the dead only to get sliced and diced in some over-the-top Grand Guignol fashion is pretty damn bueno; in a sick-and-twisted sort of way, mind you, but damn bueno all the same.

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