As long as there have been horror movies, there’s been chatter about their undue influence on corruptible minors.
When we see images of Virginia Tech campus shooter Cho Seung-Hui posed
menacingly with a hammer, a la Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy, it
makes one wonder about the connections between the violent images and
content we as a society so readily accept and rapaciously consume in
our entertainment, and their place in and relationship to our real lives.
When it bowed in January of 2006, Eli Roth‘s low-budget Hostel
reignited the low-lying embers of that debate, exemplifying the
“torture-porn” trend in robust fashion on its way to an
overall worldwide haul of more than $80 million. Its sequel, costarring Bijou Phillips (above), is at once a fancifully heightened reflection of a very
tangible, real-world evil that’s always existed and also a movie of
such unapologetically grim, realistic strokes that you could envision
it serving as a sort of trigger in maybe that one lonely, desperate, sick kid
out there with an inclination for violence.
So on the one hand, Hostel: Part II is offensive, yes, insomuch as it’s completely cognizant of the buttons that it so merrily pushes. One extended sequence finds a gun menacingly pushed directly into the
faces of seven or eight children, one by one. Another finds a naked
woman bathing in the arterial spray of a bound and gagged torture
victim, slowly slit open with a scythe. There isn’t — or shouldn’t be,
at least — any cathartic pleasure derived from watching these scenes,
which is why both this film and its predecessor can’t reasonably be
described as “good,” but rather instead bleakly accomplished.
Still, there have been and always will be works of music, literature and entertainment that demand context. This isn’t to say that Hostel: Part II is terribly complex, or a work of great or significant art, but to
acknowledge that both its commercial success — and the opposite reactions of
disgust that it produces — says something important about the cultural
crossroads at which we find ourselves. Roth has a sense of playful macabre humor, but is also chiefly a savvy fence-straddler
who, for the purpose of his career, came along at a particularly
fortuitous moment. It’s no surprise,
really, that he worked for David Lynch on material for the celebrated
filmmaker’s web site, because Roth’s own movies, dating back to Rotten Fruit and Cabin Fever, are an even more graphic extension of the queasy premise found in Lynch’s perhaps still most well-known masterwork, Blue Velvet: namely, that darkness and unspeakable depravity lurks just beneath the surface of tranquil normalcy.