Hostel: Part II

Reviewed by Gary Patterson

One year after the unexpected success of his gory horror flick “Hostel,” writer-director Eli Roth ups the ante in “Hostel: Part II,” a sequel that's more intense and bloodier, paying equal attention to the victims as well as their torturers.

New saga revolves around a frightening trip, during which suppressed urges and latent desires are unleashed to some chillingly horrific consequences. In “Hostel: Part II,” three young Americans traveling in Rome set off for a weekend getaway led by a gorgeous European acquaintance who invites them to join her at an exotic spa, promising will be able to relax and bondhave quality time. Will the girls find the oasis they are looking for, or are they poised to become victims for auction, pawns in the fantasies of the sick and privileged

Unlike Tarantino (who's credited here as exec-producer, Eli Roth, who made an impressive feature debut with “Cabin Fever” (2002), is not ashamed, embarrassed or apologetic about being a genre director, a craftsman committed to delivering the basic goods, without pretense to art or A-level filmmaking. Here is a director content with making serviceable B-level flicks.

The first film was a suspenseful tale of a Slovakian youth hostel that doubles as a sadistic playground to well-heeled clientele from all over the world. “Hostel” was a gritty account of American backpackers unwittingly sold to nasty patrons who torture and kill simply for the perverse pleasure of killing.

Unlike most sequels, “Part II” is marked by the return of the first film's entire team, which includes Roth, producers Mike Fleiss and Chris Briggs, and executive producers Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel, and Tarantino.

More importantly, unlike most sequels, which basically rehash the plot and ideas of the first film (often with the same actors), “Hostel: Part II” is a different kind of movie–and story. The only link to “Hostel” is the brief appearance of its star Paxton (Jay Hernandez), the only survivor, who is seen early on, but then quickly and fortuitously forgotten.

Highly aware of the pressures to deliver a follow-up that would match and even surpass the first film's gore and intensity, Roth ups the ante by making a number of shrewd moves. First, he has made the three protagonists young women. Women in jeopardy are a staple of the horror genre, though usually as victims. In this scenario, the girls traveling in Europe feel more vulnerable than the guys in the first movie.

“Hostel Part II” follows the fateful journey of Beth, Whitney and Lorna, three inexperienced American women traveling abroad in Italy. Beth (Lauren German, who appeared in the remake “Texas Chain Massacre”), a wealthy yet unassuming all-American girl, is vulnerable and likeable yet strong enough and able to kick asswhen necessary. Beth's friend Whitney (Bijou Phillips) is a smart girl who at first seems more interested in meeting guys than seeing Europe. Whitney is funny and sharp, but also ballsy and tough. Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) is the awkward girl-next-door who longs for romance and excitement in her life.

As written, the women represent too much of familiar types, but the casting is superb, allowing each actress to personalize her part. (Some of the girls recall those in Tarantino's “Death Proof”).

The central premise is rather simple but effective: While taking a weekend trip, the trio of femmes is lured to a remote corner of Slovakia by a mysterious beautiful model, who threatens to turn their idyllic adventure into a nightmarish fight for their lives.

Like its predecessor, “Hostel: Part II” begins as a disarming vision of youthful dream vacation, a comedy about young girls just wanting to have fun. The atmosphere changes when the girls visit a medieval fair in Cesky Krumlov, a picturesque town near Prague that contributes to the movie's fairy-tale quality; Beth is like Snow White, and Cesky Krumlov is her fantasyland.

Borrowing from Hitchcock the notion of seemingly balanced and ordinary life that's full of tensions and is about to explode, at first sight, the town is so perfect that it's just a matter of time before “something” menaces to go wrong, to shatter the idyllic place.

In this film, the torture scenes are grueling, disturbing, emotionally intense, and elaborate in execution. Reportedly, as Lorna, Matarazzo worked in the nude for a sequence that took two nights to shoot, during which she was hanging upside down with her hands shackled behind her back.

Also like Hitchcock's work, the movie's villains and/or potential villains are a match for the protagonists. They include the curvaceous and gorgeous Axelle, the cold and calculating Sasha, and two American buddies, Todd and Stuart.

Axelle (played by Vera Jordanova, a model born in Bulgaria and raised in Finland) is the temptress who lures the girls away from their intended destination of Prague, shepherding them toward Slovakia. With her stunning looks, Jordanova lends an exotic yet elusive air. Axelle seems innocent but there is a mysterious side to her; you never know what to expect of her or what she's capable of doing.

Axelle's mentor Sasha, the head figure in a nefarious organization called Elite Hunting, is played by Slovakian stage and screen actor Milan Knazko. As a villain, Sasha has the icy demeanor of a heartless killer and the business skills and ruthless cunning of a US Wall Street deal broker.

Unlike the first film, which stayed closely to the victims, “Hostel: Part II” is also concerned with the torturers, Stuart and Todd, the upwardly-mobile American suburbanites who travel for the opportunity to kill. As played by Roger Bart and Richard Burgi, they are emblematic of all the dark shadows of First World greedy materialism. Todd and Stuart mostly care about reaching the next level of excitement; neither is content with what he has. Todd has plenty of money but he's not happy. Stuart appears normal, but he's built tremendous anger inside him.

Adding color is the secondary, international cast, which includes young actor Stanislav Ianevski (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), who plays a victim of the Elite Hunting, and Italian director Ruggero Deodato (“Cannibal Holocaust”) as his torturer. Fans of 1970s cinema should recognize actress Edwige Fenech in a cameo as the girls' art professor in Rome, as well as Italian star Luc Merenda, who came out of retirement to play the Italian Detective. Zuzana Geislerova, a Czech stage actress, rounds out the cast as Inya, a fastidious manager at the Elite Hunting factory.

“Part II” is a bigger, more polished production than its predecessor in every respect. Filming took place in different locations, including Prague, South of France, and even Iceland.

Principal photography took place in Prague last September at the state-of-the-art facilities at Barrandov Studios, where key sets for the yarn's underground dungeon were constructed. As with the first movie, many scenes were shot in and around Prague. One real-life location, called the Big Sister, helps establish the story's seedy underworld. Both a “voyeuristic pay-site” and a brothel, Big Sister offers various “services” to customers at no charge as long as they agree to live Internet streaming of their activities, which are viewed by paying subscribers.

Roth and production designer Robert Wilson King toured factories and underground sites and replicated their locations, adding flourishes to each one. King's design work includes the interiors of the train carrying the girls; the medieval fair; and the factory, the dark endpoint where the Elite Hunting organization conducts its grisly business. The factory set serves as a character in and of itself, a reminder for moviegoers of where they've been and also pointing to a new direction.

The gifted King focused on conjuring emotionally loaded images, such as the creepy medieval festival, or the factory's heavy steel gates, which look like a teeth-baring monster.

The Oscar-winning make-up team of Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger (“Chronicles of Narnia”) have fine-tuned the prosthetic body parts and other cinematic illusions. In situations where the prosthetics required computerized assistance, Nicotero and Berger turned to the CGI talents of visual effects supervisor Gary Beach.

The film's philosophical foundations, about the basic human needs to control and to hurt, are dubious and even dangerous to be taken seriously. However, on its own terms,” Hostel: Part II” is a gritty, frightening picture of intense human brutality underscoring the story's dark psychological heart.

Cast

Beth Lauren German
Stuart Roger Bart
Lorna Heather Matarazzo
Whitney Bijou Phillips
Todd Richard Burgi
Axelle Vera Jordanova
Paxton Jay Hernandez
Stephanie Jordan Ladd
Sasha Milan Knazko
Art Class Professor Edwige Fenech
Miroslav Stanislav Ianevski
Bubblegum Gang Leader Patrik Zigo
Inya Zuzana Geislerova