Though I’ve never been a fan of the horror subgenre dubbed “torture porn”, I often find myself defending Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) and Hostel Part II (2007), which tell of a secret club in Eastern Europe that provides the rich with the thrill of gruesome murder. Brutal and tasteless, these movies don’t inspire a revisit, but it’s worth noting they spend as much time critiquing our thirst for blood as they do satisfying it. Now comes Hostel Part III, a straight-to-video sequel helmed by Scott Spiegel, who has yet to show the subtlety required for this sort of subversion.
Consider the prerequisite torture sequences in this third instalment. Whereas Roth knew to deliver only a few shocking images and imply the rest (not that anyone noticed), Spiegel lingers on the disgusting bits like a nine-year-old playing with his Creepy Crawlers Candy Creator. To make matters worse, he gives the victims no chance of escape, forcing us to watch their elaborate demises without any sense of hope or suspense. This makes the experience so off-putting the conscientious objector in me screamed not to give the film any more of my time.
Mercifully, only three such scenes are featured, and they feel tacked on to begin with. Otherwise, Hostel Part III plays more like a detective thriller, following obnoxious yuppies Scott (Brian Hallisay), Carter (Kip Pardue), and Justin (John Hensley) as they search for their friend Mike (Skyler Stone), who disappeared during a Las Vegas bachelor party. Think The Hangover (2009) but with dead hookers instead of a bubbly stripper and bloody betrayals instead of male bonding.
I wonder whether a film noir approach might have better suited Michael Weiss’ screenplay, which presents a predictable Las Vegas twist on the franchise’s core concept (it involves gambling) and then dutifully ignores it in favour of Scott and company’s makeshift investigation. I’m not complaining, mind you. I much prefer plot twists and misdirection to gory cat-and-mouse chases, and Hostel Part III kept me guessing until the end, countering my expectations at several turns.
However, I feel a few of the red herrings hint at more promising possibilities than the path ultimately taken by the filmmakers. For example, I would have liked Scott’s fiancée, Amy (Kelly Thiebaud), to play a different role in the story if only to balance the main characters’ rampant misogyny. Come to think of it, the women get severely short-changed in Hostel Part III, either vanishing from the narrative halfway into the movie or dying off moments before getting to do something interesting. Heck, we never do find out what happened to Anka (Evelina Oboza).
It’s one thing to subvert our expectations, another to deliberately fall short of them. Consider the subplot involving Victor (Nickola Shreli), Anka’s gruff but loving husband. The thread starts off strong, playing off the xenophobia inherent to the original movies’ premise, comes back every ten minutes or so to remind us of its potential, and then peters out cheekily so we can focus on a far less sympathetic character hacking his way to freedom. Yawn. It doesn’t help that the sequence portrays violence as horrifying when coming from the baddies but somehow awesome when coming from the would-be hero: the very notion Roth was trying to dismantle.
It’s as if Weiss knew what excesses in the franchise he wanted to mitigate but forgot to offer viable alternatives, whereas Spiegel just wanted to feed the gore hounds who made the series a commercial success but lacked the means and ambition to capture its satirical edge. The result proves uneven if not downright schizophrenic, but what can we expect from a project commissioned and developed for the sole purpose of making a quick buck? After all, Hostel Part III does hint at inspiration, which is more than one can say about most direct-to-video sequels.