Lots of things come to mind when the movies of Eli Roth get brought up. The horror maestro has been making movies since 2001, starting with his sickness-fuelled debut Cabin Fever. But perhaps his most famous came in 2005 with the release of a little film called Hostel. Released at a time where the most popular horror films were considered “Torture Porn”, the film featured not only a standard helping of blood and gore but the addition of drug use and sexual content. Uncommon for the time, nudity was supplied in equal amounts to the gore.
This is where the problems began. Hostel doesn’t have what you would call the best depiction of women. Most of the time they’re either bare or have paper-thin characterisation. Regardless, this didn’t prevent the film from becoming a massive success and a sequel being green-lit almost instantly and in 2007 we were graced with Hostel Part II.
On the surface level, Part II appears to be more of the same, even sharing a similar premise to the first instalment. The film follows a group of American travellers — this time all women in contrast to the all-male leads of the first film — as they visit eastern Europe and become victims of a human trafficking torture ring. Deep down under the surface though, Hostel Part II contains some complex feminist themes.
Whereas most horror films, especially in the “torture porn” category, almost exclusively portray women as victims to grotesque acts of violence, Hostel Part II fleshes out our female protagonists in ways that the first film didn’t. Gone is the poor characterisation of female characters from the first film and in its place is the strong portrayal of a “girl gang” as they travel eastern Europe for very different reasons than the protagonists from the first film. Spearheaded by Beth (Lauren German) the film tries to give depth to the female characters this time around, including Whitney (Bijou Philips) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo). They’re not there for sex and drugs but rather experiencing culture and seeing the world, all with a side of the sex and drugs that we’ve come to expect from the series.
All the way through the movie these women are portrayed as very capable and independent. For a horror movie from 2007, it was rare for women to be portrayed like this. Women are not only the victims in the movie but also are portrayed as aggressors and eventually survivalists. In a climatic moment of the film Beth cuts the genitals off her assailant and feeds them to a dog in what plays out like a “hear me roar” moment. The scene transpires in graphic detail and doesn’t shy away from the act that takes place.
Now comes the big question. Does all of this seem authentic, or simply played for the shock value of seeing women commit and be in such heinous acts? To me it does seem authentic. The care taken in building up each of the lead characters provides bigger payoffs seeing where their tales of terror end up. It would’ve been easy to just remake Hostel with women and call it a day, and one would argue on the surface level it seems to be that. Roth instead gives us a (for the time) progressive gore fest that wasn’t entirely common up until that point. Hostel Part II remains an interesting companion piece to the somewhat sexist first part. In hindsight, it doesn’t feel like an answer to the first film, more so taking the story in an interesting direction. With the influx of feminist horror films that we receive today, Hostel Part II is absolutely worth revisiting, as it lays down the groundwork for that’s to come in the next decade.
by Reyna Cervantes
Reyna Cervantes (She/They) is a freelance writer and screenwriter from the bright skies of southern California. With a wide range of film taste, they find themselves gravitating to any cult films and their favorite films, the Star Wars saga. Their favorite filmmakers include Nicholas Winding Refn and Paul Thomas Anderson or any filmmaker who has an exceptional use of neon. You can follow them on twitter, instagram, and letterboxd at JFCDoomblade.
Categories: Feminist Criticism