Eli Roth has learnt a lot of things from his mate Quentin Tarantino, but without a shadow of a doubt, how to talk was the one he learnt best. If you believed everything that came out of the Hostel: Part 2 director's mouth, you'd be under the impression that this was a new lesson in extreme cinema, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on screen to new and previously unheard of levels. Gore-hounds though will most likely walk out the multiplexes with the same aftertaste that the first Hostel left; it's violent sure, but it's not the harshest, most disturbing film ever made by a long shot. In fact, the only reason you should approach with kid gloves is because this time, it is girls that suffer. Young, nice and pretty girls with much to offer the world and whether or not dismembering them is more shocking than torturing and killing a horny male jock is a matter for feminist academics to debate.
The story this time focuses on a trio of art students studying abroad who decide to do some travelling during their holidays. Convinced by a local of the attractions to be had in a Slovakian spa (uh-oh!), tough girl Whitney (Bijou Philips), rich, confident lesbian Beth (Lauren German) and nerdish, murderer-magnet Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) set off for a few relaxing days in the former Soviet block, only to find themselves being splattered all over the walls instead. It's grim and it's nihilistic, but not without a vein of dark humour running throughout (the hell-spawn local brats play football with a severed head), but unlike the first film's bewildered hero Paxton (Jay Hernandez), it's difficult to cheer the protagonists on. Thankfully, we're spared the gratuitous, borderline-pornography of the last film, but the girls are so two-dimensional it's hard to care when their holiday starts to go wrong, Lorna for instance being so sweet, naive and childish that she might as well be a parody.
That said though, if you're after more of the same arcing blood sprays and annihilated bodies, Hostel 2 delivers. However, it neither matches nor surpasses the original. Claret still flies of course but in a bit more subdued way and surprisingly, the final act doesn't even come close to matching the frantic, battle for survival that Paxton went through two years ago. Much of the violence takes place off camera, where the audience imagination is set to run wild to the screams of the mutilated but only one scene towards the end is liable to make you wince. Considering the shock-value of the original lay in tendon slicing, fingers being severed, a girl exploding as a train hit her and the eyeball scene, it seems like a step backwards as far as gore is concerned. Instead, Roth goes for a dark psychological approach but woefully mishandles it. The shocking about turns of the plot are more predictable than the director seems to think and what should have been a tense, nail-biting conflict of wits misfires, giving us nothing but loads of shouting and a dramatic, but unbelievable personality shift. Roth may know how to do gore, but characterisations? Forget about it.
As a result, Hostel Part 2 is evidence of how far you can go if your self-belief is spectacularly high, but that is all. All talk of this being a doom-laden, intestine shredding nerve-jangler can do nothing to disguise the fact that it apes the masters but doesn't outdo them. Consider how good this would have been if Neil Marshal had directed it for example? Unfortunately, Roth and Tarantino were presumably too busy head-banging to men being torn apart by dogs, girls getting buzz-saws in the face and the gruesome 'Bathory' scene to notice. The Tarantino connection however is rather apt and had this not been a sequel, it could just as easily have gone under a different name and been attached to the Grindhouse project. Don't be surprised if future installments wind up going straight to DVD.