Flipping the sexes so that we have women victims is an obvious try for variety; more interesting is the attempt to look into the stories of the kind of people who might want to pay money for the service--one a hardcore corporate predator, the other a more ambivalent family man. Roth's one clever plot twist is predicated on one man's attitude towards (or problems with) his wife; the rest--the faux escape that leads to a luxurious chateau, for example--is obvious and dull.
Some fuss has been made on the treatment of Heather Matarazzo like so much hung meat; actually, the scene involving her demise is a perverse variation of Countess Erzebet Bathory's practice of bathing in a virgin's blood (for younger skin), and as presented, with the magnificent Edwige Fenech writhing in sexual ecstacy, the sequence is difficult to resist--it's almost beautifully sensual (and I'm a sucker for horror with a strong sense of beauty (Bava, Argento, Cronenberg)), and easily the finest single image in the picture.
More problematic is the presentation of Matarazzo as a clueless geek virgin, hopelessly in love with the Europe in her mind and failing to see the Europe Roth has in mind--Welcome to the Dollhouse with oversized blades and fully developed breasts. Matarazzo I'm sure was kept from being uncomfortable--or at least was as uncomfortable as she was willing to undergo--but allowing herself to be so contemptuously treated, one wants to ask: does she hate herself that much? Equally mysterious is Matarazzo's refusal to participate in Solondz's Dollhouse sequel, Palindromes; both Solondz and Roth treat her like shit onscreen--what does Roth have (or do) that Solondz doesn't? *
*("Heather, I've got this real cool death scene for you; you'll be nude, people'll talk about you, and you'll look hot.**")
**If you take a good look at the scene, not really--if anyone's eroticized, it's Fenech, not Matarazzo; the poor girl just looks like a sad side of beef, ready to be carved.
Arguably the creepiest moment in the film is when the heroine finds herself alone in the spa (nice use of mist and silence there); arguably the worst is the child killing--not so much the idea of a child being killed (Sergio Leone did something similar to better effect in Once Upon a Time in the West) as the fact that Roth stretches the moment to the point of tedium. It's about this point that you realize: he doesn't seem to have much to work with in the first place, is why he works over what little he's got so thoroughly.
Maybe that's the biggest problem I have with Hostel 2, the paucity of ideas. Roth talks a great game, about how the two pictures evoke Guantanamo, how there's a political subtext to all this. There is, but not the one he's talking about--seems to me his movies are a symptom of the mindset that created Guantanamo (let's party, dude!), not a critique, and that the final impression is of an implacable world that hates Americans not because they do anything to deserve the hate, but because they're such soft, easy targets (even when we follow the torturers' story, the impression is that these are self-absorbed amateurs; by comparison Fenech and the Italian gourmand are seasoned pros).
The finally brings to mind the adage about money buying everything. Is Roth so completely cynical that he'd admit there's no real possibility of escape for his guests (an implausibility he failed to address in the previous picture) save through the pocketbook? What does this say about his political subtext--that the rich escape and live longer, the poor are power-tool fodder? And why does he feel he has to steal a plot twist from the Saw sequels?
Instructive comparing this to Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley (which I saw right after and yes, the difference is dizzying). Loach includes a torture sequence early in the picture--nothing elaborate or particularly original, just rusty pliers tearing out fingernails. But Loach's gift for gritty realism serves him in good stead: we know who the people involved are (Irish Republican Army soldiers, held prisoner by the Black and Tan), we know what's at stake, and we know this isn't some fantastic scenario cooked up by a geek with too much time on his hands.
Loach doesn't linger (much), just gives us the bent-over man, the scrape of plier teeth against nail, the victim's scream. It takes as much time as one would imagine it would take, with no more buildup than a busy interrogator might actually spend before working on his subject. Roth's torture sequences are mildly amusing and competently shot, but they're weightless, because the characters involved don't really matter, just the details and manner of their passing; with Loach, we have the additonal horror of seeing people who we know existed suffering, people who could very well be friends and neighbors--are our friends, since Loach allowed us to spend time with them, get to know them.
And unlike with Roth, the torture has consequences--Teddy, the man being interrogated (Padraic Delaney), becomes the more practical of two IRA brothers; the other, Damien (the fragile, unsettlingly blue-eyed Cillian Murphy) is the idealist, the purist--his notions of freedom and independence, untainted by a strong dose of physical reality, allows no compromise. Brother versus brother is a hoary concept in literature, but Loach manages to tell it simply, give it fresh power.
Roth as mentioned talks about how his movies evoke the Iraq war; Loach is able to make the connection by the far simpler expedient of telling his story straight, without once forcing the similarities. We get the arbitrary arrests, the forced entries into houses, the beatings; we get the word "occupation" thrown about ("sticks and stones may break one's bones but words cause permanent damage"), the demand not to look at the oppressor's face (looking implies you stand on identical grounds with him, that you're an equal, that you're trying to establish a human connection, a connection he in turn is trying to destroy; to him you must be some kind of animal to be restrained). Just by being faithful to the details of his milieu (one wonders what milieu Roth's trying to evoke--Pan-European Softcore?) Loach makes the film speak to us about any occupation, at any point in history--about how distressingly similar they are, no matter what door is being kicked in, or which boot is doing the kicking.
And it's not leftist propaganda; at least, I think Loach intends leftist propaganda and in some films (unfortunately) gets it, but here the tone achieved is one of a general, genuine tragedy, inescapable no matter what you do, what you had originally intended, or whose side you belong. Roth's Hostel 2 is disposable entertainment, to be used then tossed in the nearest trash bin; Loach's Wind stays with you, and reshapes the way you think and feel about the world.