Blood Baths

Director Eli Roth goes too far in 'Hostel: Part II'

I'm a little torn when it comes to director Eli Roth's Hostel: Part II, the follow-up to his 2005 hit about American boys having a very bad European vacation. I've liked all of Roth's films, including the first Hostel, Cabin Fever and his hilarious fake trailer for Grindhouse. With this sequel, Roth has certainly shot a good-looking movie on a low budget, while also managing to assemble a stellar cast.

Ultimately, I just didn't like watching Hostel: Part II. Yes, it's a horror film that tries to make the viewer uncomfortable, and it succeeds. But instead of feeling that sick sense of glee from being truly terrified, I felt depressed, during and afterward. It's a little too good at being sick.

The film starts with a prologue involving Paxton (Jay Hernandez), the first movie's lone survivor, before moving to a new set of victims. This time out, naturally, it's some girls who check into a Slovakian hostel with a deceptively nice surface. They are the serious Beth (Lauren German), the wild Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and geeky Lorna (Heather Matarazzo of Welcome to the Dollhouse). They travel from Italy to Slovakia via train, meeting up with the pretty Axelle (Vera Jordanova). Axelle speaks of a great hostel with health spas, and the girls like the sound of it, unaware that the spa offers literal bloodbaths.

Roth, who chose not to pass directorial duties to somebody else, gets the sole writing credit. One interesting twist is that he shows the background of two hostel killers, from the moment they get the chance to bid on American girls on their cell phones, to the moment they wind up in the room in the funny suits. Giving some depth to the killers, showing them as typical businessmen with a touch of evil, is a good move. Roger Bart is especially good as Stuart, who seems to be the meekest of the pair, along for the ride because his partner, Todd (Richard Burgi), is so gung-ho.

Among the torture games this time out would be Lorna hanging upside down, completely nude, while a patron slashes her body with a scythe, bathing in her blood. It's a truly sickening sequence, made all the more horrible by the fact that Matarazzo is such a convincing actress, screaming and crying in a way that makes the picture feel like some sort of snuff film. Ditto Phillips, who can cry with the best of them. Her fateful moment with a circular saw was something I just didn't need to see. Gregory Nicotero and friends do excellent work with the gore makeup, but despite the fine work with fake blood, it's in these moments that the Hostel films officially go too far.

Roth tries to balance out his little gender war by having one of the victims turn the tables on her captor. Again, he goes overboard with a sequence involving certain male body parts being fed to some ravenous dogs. If you count yourself among the weirdos needing to see something like this, and I mean really see it, have a great time. Roth tries to make this particular moment funny, but it's not. It's just a nauseating ode to Caligula.

I'm looking forward to seeing Roth branch out, believing that the decision to jump straight into a Hostel sequel was a bad one. He's currently working on an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Cell, where a cellular-phone frequency turns all users into zombies.

I'm a horror fan, but sometimes a director can overdo it with the squirm factor to the point that his film is far too unpleasant to be enjoyed. While I didn't necessarily hate it, I did not enjoy Hostel: Part II.