dir: Eli Roth
[img_assist|nid=763|title=Lambs to the slaughter|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
What Borat has done for Kazakhstan, Eli Roth and his Hostel horror movies have done for Slovakia.
You thought that Slovakia was just a former part of the Soviet Union that was recovering from no longer having the word Czech in front of its name. In Roth’s hands, Slovakia is a place as bleak and foreboding as Chechnya, as Srebrenica, as Caroline Springs where, in the post-Communist aftermath, life is simultaneously cheap and auctionable to the highest bidder.
In the first Hostel flick, two American backpackers and an Icelandic traveller find themselves on the pointy end of the Eastern European tourist industry when they are selected, hunted down, tortured and murdered by the clients of a company who pay to maim and kill people in the slaughterrooms of an old industrial complex.
It’s a horribly macabre idea, and Eli Roth and his many producers could not see any reason as to why they shouldn’t repeat the idea again, only with American girls this time.
The film opens with, as a parallel to the opening in the first film which showed someone cleaning what looked like a charnel house whilst whistling an odd tune, someone sorting through a person’s possessions, and throwing these personal keepsakes; treasured memories, photos, love letters, into a furnace. Those in the know understand what this means: these poor victims are annihilated, their existences erased even after the torment they have endured has ended.
It freaks me out, that’s for sure. The flick plays out with a tone of high seriousness no matter how cheesy it gets, which actually works well as a counterpoint. I guess, I mean it’s hard to know. The film walks this line between high seriousness and pure exploitation trash in a way that is as disturbing as it is laughable.
But I wasn’t laughing much.
Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) are Americans travelling around Europe who are enticed to the beautiful country of Slovakia by some model with the unlikely name of Axelle (Vera Jordanova). Once they reach the same hostel from the first flick, their photos and identities are put onto an online auction site where rich arseholes, male and female, around the world bid for the honour and the privilege to be the one who gets to torture and murder them.
It’s handled in such a casual, ‘eBay auction on Elvis commemorative plates’ kind of manner that it is more chilling than the gory stuff following. I find that more disturbing, and the notion that someone could run or participate in such a monstrous enterprise more horrifying than any torment or killing that follows. Well, it’s almost as nasty.
One of the bidders for Beth is an American businessman (Richard Burgi), who wants Beth for his friend Stuart (Roger Bart) because of her resemblance to his wife. They win, and set off for Slovakia despite Stuart’s apparent reluctance.
Stuart and his friend, veterans of whore tourism of the world’s fleshpots, see this as the next level of experience that men of money, of substance, should aspire to. There are some mixed metaphor notions bandied about of a Nietschean variety, such as the mere fact of killing someone will somehow make them Aryan supermen. The more time we spend with Stuart, the more we are convinced that he is desperate to get out of it. And also, that such a scenario is seriously insane.
Beth of course doesn’t know about any of this, so she and her friends endeavour to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells before moving on. Whitney is an annoying partygirl and wants nothing more than to get drunk and fuck. Lorna is a mousy artistic girl who travels because she genuinely wants to see the sights and feel joy in the presence of the masterpieces of the Renaissance before writing all about it in her journal. In other words, she’s a total fucking nerd, but a nice enough girl. Beth’s only defining traits are that she is sensible, looks out for the welfare of her friends and is personally richer than Croesus.
Of course, the killings have to start sometime, lest we get the idea that Slovakia is somehow less than a kill-crazy murderhole of post-communist misery.
Stuart is meant to be someone who’s planning on getting out of what he’s been talked into, but such a movie is not going to go anywhere if that’s the case. As much as we’re supposed to believe he’s the reluctant one, and that his awful friend is the instigator, we are to learn that there is something even uglier going on.
The vile company involved, calling itself Elite Hunting, has rules about how these auctions, contracts and deals are closed. Once begun, the client must complete their transaction on the poor innocent, with no variations allowable. They also must bear the tattoo of the company: a hideous bloodhound face in honour of the entrepreneur who runs the business.
And what a murderous motherfucker he turns out to be. Sasha (Milan Knazko) is clearly a Russian ex-Soviet holdover who runs everything like he’s still a KGB spymaster/sadist extraordinaire. Early in the film we see what someone does on Sasha’s orders, when the one survivor from the first film is dealt with in a pointless and brutal fashion. Later on we see how Sasha remembers those who have particularly pissed him off.
We also see that he has no problem killing children, or honouring variations in the program when someone turns the tables on her particularly dire situation and strives to strike an alternative deal. What a rich and complex individual Sasha must be. If only we could have had even more backstory on how he came to head such an entirely evil enterprise. He must have initially made his fortune in the toy making industry.
For my money, the more horrific aspects of these flicks thus far have been in the concept rather than the execution necessarily, though the productions have been lovingly and expensively put together by Roth and his fellow sociopaths. As such, despite the scenes of incredibly nasty gore, such as poor Lorna’s fate at the hands of a woman hoping to bathe in the blood of a virgin, or the guy who is being slowly eaten by a cannibal, the idea that such an organisation could exist, and that there are otherwise normal people who would partake of their services is nastier than any of the gory nastiness on display. As such, I don’t put the Hostel flicks in the same category of recent horror movies that are as generic as horror flicks ever were, but which focus on onscreen depictions of torture rather than actually trying to scare people.
Hostel 2 pays homage to European horror flicks of the last thirty years explicitly and through cameos as well. Apart from replicating the more over the top action of shlockmeisters like Spanish director Jess Franco, or Italians like Mario Bava, Roth pays further tribute by having a little cameo by Ruggero Deodato, director of Cannibal Holocaust, in the aforementioned cannibal scene. It’s a wicked, wicked scene, perfectly in keeping with these most macabre of films.
I do consider these flicks to be a cut above the usual slew of horror sequels, remakes and other dire monstrosities, but by the same token, I don’t think the Hostel flicks are high art or great movies in and of themselves. There is enough there for me to be interested in, however, and it’s the rare horror flick that provokes my interest rather than boring me with its formulaic inanity.
There’s political subtext, there’s simultaneous perceived anti-Americanism as well as the implication that such a business can only sustain itself with the excesses of American contemporary capitalism, there’s moral quandaries, there’s the psychological level that looks at why otherwise rational people could get involved in such a deal. And there’s people being tortured and tormented to death. Something for everyone, wouldn’t you say?
Since Hostel 2 didn’t exactly set the box office alight, which director Eli Roth blamed on filesharing, bad reviews and flying unicorns for, it’s unlikely that a third will get made. I would be keen to see one, all the same. There’s plenty more they could do with this premise. It’s an evil, nasty, ugly, macabre, contemporary premise and thus deserves another go.
Although,. I’m ashamed to admit that what I would really like to see is a third flick where Coalition forces bomb these Slovakian monsters back into the Stone Age.
7 ways in which Stuart’s fate is an entirely deserved one out of 10
“Come on, Borat, let's see what you’ve got.” – Hostel: Part 2