Hostel: Part II. 2007. Directed & Written by Eli Roth.
Starring Lauren German, Roger Bart, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips, Richard Burgi, Vera Jordanova, Jay Hernandez, Jordan Ladd, Milan Knazko, Edwige Fenech, Stanislav Ianevski, & Patrik Zigo.
Lionsgate / Screen Gems / Next Entertainment / Raw Nerve / International Production Company
Rated 18A / 94 minutes
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)Eli Roth’s Hostel was brutal and horrific. The film was also full of toxic masculine behaviour, misogyny, and homophobia. Roth wanted to make a commentary about American ignorance, but instead played into a lot of that ignorance. He used Hostel: Part II, whether inadvertently or not, to undo a little of what the first film did wrong, by focusing on female characters who come up against the Elite Hunting Club’s capitalist death cult. While there’s still plenty misogyny it’s used as commentary about the sickness of patriarchal power. Most importantly, the film’s finale portrays a visceral act of a woman’s redemption that strikes at the heart of the patriarchy: right in the dick.
Paxton (Jay Hernandez) survived Hostel, but soon the Elite Hunting Club finds him and his head is delivered to the big boss, Sasha (Milan Kňažko). Elsewhere in Italy, three Americans—Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips), and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo)—meet a model who tells them about a luxurious spa in Slovakia where they could take the most relaxing, wonderful vacation. So the four women check into a hostel, but the Americans are completely unaware their passports are being uploaded to an auction website, where clients of the Elite Hunting Club bid on them, in the hopes of torturing and killing the women soon. Slowly, Beth, Whitney, and Lorna are split up and abducted. While Beth’s friends experience abject brutality, she struggles to find a potential way out.
One of the most chilling aspects of the film is how we witness the capitalist death cult’s global sprawl. We the Elite Hunting Club’s auction site, which is unsettling on its face. But it’s the scene featuring the bidding that’s most upsetting, showing many different male clients from various different bourgeois backgrounds. This sequence, by way of some fantastic editing, also shows us the depraved sickness of men and their disgusting desires, as the various male clients hide in plain sight amongst co-workers, wives, children, all while they bid on women they plan to torture and murder overseas for a sick, secret vacation.
Masculinity in Hostel: Part II is interrogated mainly through the characters of Todd (Richard Burgi) and Stuart (Roger Bart). Todd is the obvious hypermasculine male, though it’s all performative, while Stuart doesn’t “like needles” and acts timid about the whole murder vacation. Todd’s view on murder is disturbingly linked with his ideas about sex. He relates a story about the “first guy to get laid” back in high school and how the guy gave off an aura to the way he and Stuart will feel after they’ve committed murder, in that nobody will know but they’ll still give off that vibe; for Todd, sex and death are intricately linked in a deeply troubling way. Yet Stuart’s the worst of the two because he appears so reluctant and horrified in the beginning with the reality of their Slovakian trip, only to unveil the monster lurking within later once they get to the building where they’ll torture and kill their victims, proving we can’t ever be sure of someone’s identity beyond the fabricated mask they project to the public.
Heteronormativity is king in the Hostel films. The first film was super hetero, including all kinds of homophobia, whereas the second briefly pays homage to that homophobia, this time coming from a woman. Whitney, at the hostel desk, echoes one of Paxton’s lines when she says: “It sounds kinda gay.” We see how heteronormativity rules the Hostel universe, through men and women alike. However, one refreshing moment is early on when Beth meets the nude model they sketched and there’s clear interest on the latter’s part, while at the same time Beth doesn’t seem bothered by it, suggesting she may be lesbian, or bisexual. In the first film, Paxton and Josh (Derek Richardson) are so terrified of anything slightly homoerotic that the words “gay” and “faggot” get thrown around constantly, and even just another man calling Josh handsome makes them uncomfortable. In contrast, Beth’s totally fine with possible lesbian attention, which either suggest she’s not straight or, at the very least, she’s not threatened by same-sex attraction like her ill-fated counterparts in Roth’s first film.
Near the film’s end, Beth castrates Stuart and literally/figuratively destroys his sense of power. She also uses her family’s bourgeois wealth to completely rob Stuart and the rest of the men seeking to make her a victim of their patriarchal power over her. She uses the only language the Elite Hunting Club ultimately understands: the almighty dollar. Beth also gets back at the model, the one who lured her and her friends into the clutches of the capitalist death cult. She uses the help of the Bubble Gum Gang who, as I wrote in my earlier essay on Hostel, is ideologically opposed to the Elite Hunting Club; the Bubble Gum Gang don’t deal in money, they barter and trade for bubble gum. So the way Beth joins forces with the Bubble Gum kids to get her revenge on the model, in spite of Beth coming from bourgeois wealth, is her rejecting the death brought on by capitalism, signified by the Elite Hunting Club.
Although there are still several problematic elements in Hostel: Part II it’s much smarter than Hostel. Roth seems to want to subvert some of the nonsense he included in the first, particularly by focusing on women and how they deal with the patriarchal violence of disturbed men. On top of that, the characters in the first film felt thin, whereas Beth, Whitney, and Lorna all feel like fully realised characters, not to mention that women are at far greater risk of violence globally than men, making the sequel’s plot feel much more authentic, albeit in a horrific sense.
Beth is the one who drives so much of Hostel: Part II‘s plot, specifically in the act of castrating Stuart and then using her family’s bourgeois wealth to overthrow the capitalist patriarchy’s power over her, rendering them useless in the face of her access to money. Although the Elite Hunting Club goes on operating they’ve been taught a lesson by a woman, one of their intended victims. Unlike in the first film we see their whole system challenged by a potential victim with more power than the male clients, able to subvert both the wealth and physical violence of men to illustrate the organisation and ideology’s fragility, not to mention the fragile power of men when faced with having their manhood, physical or otherwise, threatened.