Friday, March 18, 2011

Sheer Torture

I recently watched Hostel 2 for about the fourth time.  I've made no bones for my positive feelings on this franchise, and I've often said I think the sequel is the far superior film.  The characters are more engaging, seeing the entire process behind how the elite depraved procure their victims is fascinating, and the film itself shows that director Eli Roth is definitely coming into his own.  Not everyone agrees.

Many critics didn't like it, citing the usual "gore" and "torture porn" tags.  ("Torture porn" is a lazy term if ever there was one.)  Movie goers must have heeded their warnings, as the film failed to live up to the first film in terms of sheer dollar amounts.  (Wikipedia puts the film's final gross at $17 million, while the first film had an opening weekend of $19 million and went on to gross over $40 million.  That is, in a word, pitiful.)

The homoerotic tones of the first film are still here, but involve females this time, and there is also a feminist undercurrent in the last act of the movie.  While the first film had as part of its focus the typical "we are Americans, we can do anything," the sequel freed itself from such constraints, which enabled you to actually care about the characters more.  That, coupled with the fact that the main characters were female, and we as a general audience always seem more emotionally involved with them on various levels in a horror film (they may be the sex to die, but rarely do we think they deserve it as much as the men do), which ultimately makes this film work better than Hostel.  It could not exist, however, without the foundation laid by Roth's first film in the series.

The story of the first film is laid down again during the opening of the sequel in a very clever way.  It is unlikely that people who saw the second film did not see the first, so the scene just re-established the basics.  Knowing what we knew from the first film, though, set us up to understand that these torture kings were efficient and very good at what they do.  We know going in that it is unlikely these women will escape the same way the first film's survivor did because we know the Elite Hunting Club doesn't make the same mistake twice.  If it did, it wouldn't be in business.  That puts the viewers a few steps ahead of the protagonists with absolutely no way to warn them.  It's a good set-up on Roth's part, and it helps sell the film.

So why did it do so poorly at the box office?  Sequels often make less than their predecessors.  The first film was dramatically hyped and in my opinion failed to live up to the hype despite being pretty good.  This film was less hyped and people may have thought "fool me once."  And then there is the fact that the trailers made no secret about the victims being women.  That either makes audiences turn away from seeing women tortured (though I normally don't think that is the case when it comes to a movie since females are often dangled as victims to lure in audiences, I do think it might have worked here because going into it you were fairly sure of their fate and few would want to stomach that), and it made far too many other people think that it would be the same film as the first only with women this time.  It surely wasn't the story, which was far superior to the first film.

Time will tell how cinema history treats this franchise.  It may be ignored for the most part, but I do believe that ten years from now people will still be discovering this gem of a sequel ... and wondering how the hell it did so badly at the box office.

Obligatory FTC disclaimer nonsense: I was not given a free copy of this movie to write about.  I bought mine.  Clicking on the ads for the movie in this posting (and buying them) will earn me a tiny commission.

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