Written by: Michael D. Weiss (screenplay), Eli Roth (characters)
Directed by: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Kip Pardue, Brian Hallisay, and Zulay Henao
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Do you feel lucky?
With Hostel 3, Eli Roth’s series not only moves into “second sequel” territory, but also into the direct-to-video arena, where quality franchises often go to die. The first death knell comes when it’s obvious that these movies are content to simply retread the same ground on a smaller budget with a bunch of no-names. In short, they often feel like the diet versions of the films that preceded them. Scott Spiegel (taking the reigns from Roth) and company seem to be pretty aware of this, as Hostel 3 opens in the most generic terms, in a drab hotel room where we find an American college student (with one of the most horrid mop tops in recent memory) chumming it up with a couple of foreigners. One’s an impossibly attractive girl, the other a brutish thug that looks like he’d knife you in a dark alley just for looking at him the wrong way. We’ve seen this before--this is Hostel, which has built a reputation on scaring off American travelers from ever crossing the Atlantic.
And then everything gets cleverly turned on its head, and we discover that we’re actually in the United States, specifically Las Vegas, an inspired change of scenery that fits this series like a glove. That’s where a bunch of guys are headed out for a bachelor party that they’ll never forget if they manage to survive the weekend. Usually, it’s just the strippers, cocaine, and infidelity you’ve got be wary of, but when the quartet is approached by a couple of hot girls, they’re drawn into a dark series of events that become especially alarming when one of them disappears.
That sounds like the setup to a particularly violent riff on The Hangover, and the fallout is just a bit more bloodier than what the Wolfpack experienced. This is, of course, because our gang has stumbled into the hands of Elite Hunting, the global cadre of sadists who are still using a hostel as their front to lure unsuspecting visitors to their deaths (which only seems to be wedged in so the flick can “earn” its title). Admittedly, I figured this would still just be “Hostel in Vegas,” with the slummy, ashen streets of Eastern Europe traded in for the neon glare of Sin City. However, the script is a tad more ambitious than this; don’t get me wrong, it’s not especially revelatory, but screenwriter Michael Weiss introduces a cool wrinkle that sees Elite Hunting putting on shows for clients, who gamble on certain aspects of the torture. How many crossbow arrows will it take to finally do in a victim? What’s the over/under on how long another victim will beg for his life because of his wife and kids?
Though this aspect is a little underdeveloped, it does somewhat remain faithful to the series, which has always been more cerebral than most seem to give it credit for. The Grand Guignol of Hostel has been in its calling card, but the underlying psychology of “normal” people paying to kill off total strangers is most disturbing. Hostel 3 exploits this a bit further, as we’re now sickened by the weirdos who pay to callously watch other human beings get slaughtered--all while we watch, of course. While this film is hardly concerned with such post-ironic commentary, it’s interesting to ponder the voyeurism offered by horror cinema. Unfortunately, this thread gets a bit lost amongst all of the eventual schlock and silliness that overpowers a narrative that’s beset with some wild twists and turns that still prove to be entertaining enough. This one is never as genuinely creepy as the original, nor is it as delightfully demented as part two, but it eventually finds a decent, sordid through-line of betrayal and revenge that stays unhinged right up until the final slam cut to credits.
I couldn’t help but think that this would have been an excellent follow-up had Roth been able to helm it with a bigger budget and a more impressive cast. Of the guys we do get, Kip Pardue is the most recognizable, having starred in stuff like Remember the Titans (where he was “Sunshine,” the long-haired quarterback). Here, he’s the ring-leader of this bash, with the other three guys filling out the requisite roles: the shy, hoping-to-remain faithful groom-to-be (Brian Hallisay), a gimpy nerd (Justin Hensley), and the party animal that can’t wait to get away from his wife (Skyler Stone). This bunch shares some typically bawdy dialogue, some of which is actually kind of funny (there’s a joke about marriage being a three-ring circus that works pretty well), but, mostly, this does feel like warmed-over rehashes of The Hangover. That’s a move that makes enough sense; after all, the first Hostel is essentially a teen comedy gone horribly wrong, so it follows that we’ve now got a “bro movie” gone horribly wrong.
The horrors they endure probably won’t prove to be as immediately memorable as their predecessors. In fact, it seems a little tame compared to the first two films, with the exception of a wildly grisly face-skinning sequence. Those with a phobia of bugs will probably want to avert their eyes, but the flick doesn’t get extremely gory until the climax, which finds our hero becoming superhuman and blasting his way out of the abandoned warehouse. The over-the-top approach here is surely far-removed from Jay Hernandez’s intense, suspenseful escape from the original, and it actually climaxes in a huge explosion that feels far too silly even for Hostel. In that respect, Hostel 3 does feel every bit of its direct-to-video origins; in addition to simply re-treading old ground, it often seems like DTV successors amp up everything (except the budget, of course).
I won’t say that Spiegel’s reach exceeds his grasp; after all, he’s been here before, having kind of become the default DTV guy from his band of buddies (we can’t all be Tarantino and Raimi, I guess). He thankfully avoids the excessive styling that so many of these things carry, and the flick looks decent enough, though there’s definitely a dearth of impressive set designs. If you’ve got a sixth sense for direct-to-video fare, you’d sniff this out as one, for better or worse. I fall somewhere in between on this one--I think it could have ended up much worse than it did, and the final product is a fun ride that you’ll probably forget about until Hostel 4 is inevitably announced (at which point you’ll remember this one as “the one where that guy got his face ripped off”). Sony’s bringing this home to DVD a couple of days after Christmas, where it gets an acceptable presentation--the film isn’t exactly impressive looking to begin with, so the transfer is drab (but mostly clean of artifacts). The 5.1 surround track is a bit front-loaded, and you may find yourself cranking up the volume a bit more than usual to render the dialogue a bit more intelligibly. Only one special feature graces the disc, a commentary from Pardue and Spiegel, though there is a promo reel for Blu-ray, which is kind of funny since Sony didn’t offer this film on that format. If you happen to make it through the holidays with any spare cash laying around, take it down to your local rental store and check into this hostel again. Rent it!
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