Hostile to Hostel

I happened to run across a couple of interesting posts about HOSTEL PART II.

Both are negative, but that's not the interesting thing. What's interesting is that both were written without seeing the film - in fact, before the film was released - and both assume the film is going to be some huge success (in the same way that everyone expected GRINDHOUSE to burn up the box office).

Self-Styled Siren comes to the not unreasonable conclusion that there is not enough time to waste on film by Eli Roth when there are still so many movies by Jean-Pierre Melville to watch. Although no doubt true, Siren's evident disaste seems to be generic rather than specific: she doesn't conclude that there's something wrong with Roth's movies; she just doesn't seem to like graphic horrror in general, ignoring the fact that there have been some amazing movies made that did not shy away from showing blood (like George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD).

Windmills of My Mind is a little more on target, going after Roth specifically for lacking "some kind of inner moral compass that allows his films to have purpose or meaning outside of the mere desire to shock."

All well and good, but the post goes a little too far in the next paragraph:

This is all tied in with something about which I've been doing a great deal of thinking lately, and that it is the disturbingly increasing tendency toward sexual sado-masochism in the general culture (movies/TV/music) but particularly in the horror genre (an approach which has spawned its own "sub-genre" of horror films labeled by David Edelstein as "torture porn" and, in some circles, "gorno").

I hate to remind everyone, but we live in a country that imprisons people illegally and tortures enemy combatants. When the President of the United States, the Vice-President, the former Secretary of Defense, and their various lawyers all think that torture is okay, and their cheerleaders cheer them on (Gitmo was nothing more than a hazing, some young soldiers blowing off steam, according to Rush Limbaugh), then it's absurd to fret about fictional depictions of torture in the media.

You see, Eli Roth may not have a moral compass or a point, but he does have a context. That context is the ugly reality in which we live, which makes his work seem relevant. It's a cynical kind of relevance, but we should understand that there is something going on in the world that might make this kind of art resonate with audiences - and it's more than just the age-old sick fascination to witness grand guignol horror.

What keeps movies like this from being great - from being anything more than a flash in the pan that that almost immediately disapates - is that they approach the subject matter without a sense of moral outrage. Morals are for suckers - they're something that cynical politicians use to justify their self-serving policies and unjustified wars. But for filmmakers like Roth, the response is not to stand up and demand a higher standard of behavior; they just want to jump on the bandwagon in their own way, laughing as the train takes us all on the Road to Hell.

Wisely, some people do not want to take that journey. Some even want to stop the train and turn it around. Maybe that's the reason HOSTEL PART II failed to live up to box office expectations.