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Entries in Hostel Part III [2011] (1)

Wednesday
Dec282011

Hostel Part III (2011)

Splat Roulette

It's nice to close out the year with a surprise. The third Hostel movie is the first to go straight-to-video, but director Scott Spiegel and writer Michael D. Weiss don't treat it as second-tier material. This film could have easily made it to theatres, if the torture-porn genre hadn't gone out of fashion a few years ago.

So, if torture porn is dead, why make Hostel Part III? That's a great question for which I don't have an answer. But I can say that this is the headiest and least torture-porn-y of the trilogy, a God's-honest attempt to say something new. You're correct in calling me crazy for calling the film a ninety-five-percent success, because I'm sure you haven't seen it yet. Believe me, my eyes were in full roll-mode during the opening scene--until Spiegel and Weiss pulled the first of about five major curtains on the story. Within ten minutes, I had no idea where things were headed, and I actually cared to find out.

Series creator Eli Roth was not involved in this production (aside from the obligatory "characters" credit), and it's really interesting to see someone else take the reins. The first Hostel introduced us to a Czech torture club in which a trio of frat-guy-type backpackers are seduced, drugged, and kidnapped for the purposes of being sold to incredibly wealthy sadists. Men dress up in rubber suits and butchers' smocks to chop, bludgeon, and solder their victims anonymously and with complete abandon.

The sequel delved further into Elite Hunting Club, the organization behind the kidnappings. Rather than being simply "Hostel with chicks"--which many people unfairly dismissed it as--Hostel Part II upped the complexity of the characters, plot mechanics, and, yes, gore. It further cracked the door on a world whose guiding principle is amassing enough wealth to buy experiences that will squeeze emotions from the long-dead souls of the mega-wealthy.

In the years since Hostel Part II came out, the era of big-screen horror came to a quiet, sputtering end. In its place, arguably, came boundaries-pushing "R"-rated comedies--specifically, The Hangover. Hostel Part III is essentially a Hangover knock-off set in the Hostel universe. A week before his wedding, Scott (Brian Hallisay) goes on a trip to Las Vegas with best friends Carter (Kip Pardue), Mike (Skyler Stone), and Justin (John Hensley). As a further nod to Todd Philips' debauched buddy comedy, Scott's fiancée, Amy (Kelly Thiebaud) thinks the boys are headed to Palm Springs for a golfing retreat.

On arriving in Vegas, the guys meet two escorts who invite them to an exclusive club "waaay off the strip". It's obvious that this quartet of obnoxious, quip-happy douchebags have seen The Hangover and Swingers many times, but somehow missed both Hostel films: they take a cab to an abandoned factory in the middle of nowhere, expecting a party. Of course, they wind up as cattle for Elite, the American version of which sees victims put on display in bright glass rooms with state-of-the-art maiming equipment hanging from pristine walls. Scores of wealthy businessmen place bets on the Wheel of Misfortune game, wagering on everything from which weapons will be used to kill the prey to how long a victim will last before telling their torturer that they have a wife and kids.

Yes, it's all very sick stuff, and the thing I love most about Hostel III is that instead of being a gore-effects showcase, Spiegel and Weiss focus on Elite's logistics, hierarchy, and the notion of entertainment as a hotter commodity than customer loyalty. I'm also a sucker for the way the screenplay messes with audience expectations of the genre and the Hostel universe. I'm staying fully clear of spoilers here, as half the fun of the movie is watching it far exceed its perceived direct-to-video limitations.

The other half of the fun concerns the Hangover-style wackiness of the four male leads. There's very little here that's intentionally funny (excepting some great lines of male chauvinism), but the intricacies of the guys' relationships create unexpected story developments and one very surprising action scene. Instead of our heroes trying to figure out what happened to them the night before, their big mystery is how they ended up friends in the first place; one bad decision leads to another and another, until eventually people start losing limbs and faces. These aren't the dumb, scared teenagers of the previous movies, but they're just as arrogant and developmentally arrested.

It's fitting that Spiegel's previous claim to fame was writing Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi's genre-bending horror/comedy. There's a lot of playfulness here in weird camera tricks and a drinking-game-like obsession with the bountiful rear ends of cocktail girls. This could have easily been a hastily thrown together cash cow--which, in fairness, it may have been planned as--but Spiegel pours more creativity and production value into this film than most genre releases I see in the theatre. From right about the hour mark, up until the bullshit ending, Hostel III is a solid, ambitiously scaled action movie that comes very close to greatness.

Sadly, there's that ending. I can't be sure, of course, but it feels like someone at the studio insisted that the movie close on an uplifting note. Granted, "uplifting" in the Hostel universe can involve dismemberment and lots of screaming--still, the tacked-on closer is so pathetic and antithetical to the previous eighty minutes that I couldn't believe my eyes. Worse yet, Spiegel and company could have cut things short the moment before the final scene and had a terrifically sadistic ending on their hands. But, no, we can't have torture-porn audiences feeling bad about themselves, can we?

There's a good chance eighty percent of you won't even bother with Hostel III, even after reading this mostly glowing recommendation. That's fine. I'd expected the worst, too. But if we only ever watch movies we assume will be good, our experience as film lovers would be largely devoid of surprise. And that, more so than direct-to-video horror movie sequels, is the death of art.