Eli Roth’s 2005 film Hostel is one with which I have a love/hate relationship. As a horror fan, I of course loved the unrelenting brutality of the film. It never shied away from showing the audience the graphicness of each torture scene–some of which probably tested the stomachs of even the most seasoned horror lovers. But as a woman watching the movie, I didn’t feel like Hostel was made with me in mind at all, and it actually came close to truly offending me in certain scenes. Still, I supported Hostel as a horror film that broke the rules and created some new ones.
Two years later, Roth gave audiences Hostel II. While the first film centered on a group of guys trolling Europe for female flesh, the sequel smartly mixed it up by making the three protagonists women. This helped immensely in making up for the misogynistic tone that the first film sometimes had, despite the fact that all three of the girls eventually become the proverbial victims of this picture. Beth, Whitney and Lorna are three American art students in Rome who are tricked into travelling to Slovakia where the Elite Hunting torture and murder club is located. And though these three girls weren’t all the strongest or most admirable female characters Roth could have come up with, they were real and they were sympathetic, especially when compared to the people who end up torturing them.Easily the weakest of the bunch was Lorna, played by Heather Matarazzo. She was meek, gullible, and kind of nerdy, and it is also implied that she had some sort of mental or emotional issues. There was no way she could stand a chance in the Hostel world. However, there was still a charming side to Lorna because of her innocence, and in her final scene Matarazzo acted her heart out for the character to give her even more sympathy. Bijou Phillips took on the role of Whitney, who was admittedly not that likable either when we first met her. She was oversexed and narcissistic, mocking Lorna at every turn and seemingly only concerned with finding a man. But Whitney surprised the audience by fighting back as best she could when she got caught in the hooks of the torture club. She proved to have quite a tough side when she gruesomely bit off the nose of the woman who was making her up for her torturer. Unfortunately, her cut and run method of escape didn’t work and she was recaptured.
It is Lauren German’s character Beth who is the final survivor, and one who comes about her survival in a most satisfying way. From the start Beth was the most likable of the three girls with her confident but unintimidating demeanor. She was the perfect counterpart to sexpot Whitney, keeping her friend in check, and giving Lorna the empathy she needed. But Beth also showed us early on that she could be feisty at times and could stand up for herself. She showed no fear when confronting the men harassing her and Whitney on the train, becoming especially angry when they called her a tasteless name. At Elite Hunting, Beth’s torturer is Stuart, and she was chosen for him because of her resemblance to his emasculating wife. Beth keeps her cool and tries to reason with Stuart while he decides what to do with her, and in the end, she managed to overpower him and match his rage as his own violence escalated. She used her brains (and her bank account) to get out of her situation, knowing that the people at Elite Hunting were only concerned with money. And of course, Beth is the one who encapsulates female empowerment when she cuts off Stuart’s genitals, throwing them to the dogs and leaving him to bleed to death. It should also be noted that Beth’s fortune came from her mother, and she basically controls her father because of this.
Interestingly enough, it is not just the fact that the good guys are women that makes the film more appealing to a female audience. The best torture sequence of the whole series is the Elizabeth Bathory-inspired scene, wherein a beautiful woman cuts the throat of poor Lorna with a sickle, bathing in the blood of the strung-up girl as it rains down on her naked body. Roth filmed this scene in a way that was oddly sexy and glamorous, even perhaps suggesting that this woman torturer was more sophisticated than others. Also in the bidding war sequence earlier in the film, there was another woman vying to be the torturer of one of these three girls, so Mrs. Bathory is not the only demented woman out there. It was only fair of Roth to show that women have the ability to be just as sick and twisted as men, and it created a great balance in the storytelling so that the film never really favors one gender over the other.
Another example of this is that, like the original film, it is a woman who lured the victims into the clutches of Elite Hunting. Josh and Paxton needed only the promise of sex to be captured, but of course that would not work for Beth and the others. Perhaps realizing that women are more likely to trust other women, Axelle first befriends the girls and coaxes them to the hostel under the impression that she brought them to Slovakia for a relaxing time at the spa. Axelle is supposedly rewarded well for her role in acquiring victims, living comfortably in a mansion with the head of Elite Hunting, Sasha. After Beth buys her way to safety, she has no problem going back and brutally killing Axelle, proving that evil is evil, no matter the evil-doer’s gender.
Though I’m still not confident that Roth truly understands his female fan base, or the female horror fan base in general, I applaud his effort to appease us with Hostel Part II. The film offers up female characters with differing personalities and lets them each shine in her own way. The characters who are strong, confident, and resourceful are portrayed well, but the film seems to make it a point to never completely cow to what female audiences may want to see. It shows that there can just as easily be bad girls as bad guys, and that women have the same capacity for evil as men. Hostel Part II is a more appealing film to female audiences than the original on several different levels, and this is most appreciated.