Review of direct-to-DVD film Hostel: Part III
In the opening scene of the 2011 film Hostel: Part III a young American backpacker, Travis, enters a dank hostel room. Surprise – it’s occupied by an attractive Ukrainian couple, Victor and Anka. Victor is hostile at first but soon lets his guard down and invites Travis to drink out of an oversized bottle of vodka. Presumably, the three will enjoy a drink and then maybe some sexual fun. Travis hesitates and instead reaches into his backpack to offer up some beers instead.
Victor sizes up Travis and says with a thick accent, “I like this guy. He brings party with him”. The three offer each other a cheers, then start drinking the beers. Anka teasingly disrobes in plain sight of Travis and then jumps in the shower. She collapses shortly thereafter, while Victor pleads to Travis to call for help, before himself collapsing.
It’s a disarming scene, one which hints to fans of the Hostel series that Hostel: Part III will offer up something a little different. After years of speculation Hostel: Part III was released on Dec. 27, 2011, direct to DVD and with little fanfare. This time around the story takes place in Las Vegas. In the film’s first twist the Eastern European couple in the opening sequence are not the villains this time around, but are instead the film’s first victims.
After the opening credits the film’s real premise makes itself clear. Scott is getting married. His best buddy Carter is going to show him one last final hurrah, presumably for a quiet weekend playing golf in Palm Springs. Instead, Carter has planned a weekend of debauchery in Las Vegas. Scott plays along and the two meet up with their friends, Mike and Justin. The four men gamble and drink and ogle dancers until they are seemingly lured by two young hotties to a club “off the Strip”. Needless to say, going to the club is a big mistake.
Hostel: Part III has big shoes to fill. The first two Hostel films, both directed by the Quentin Tarantino-groomed Eli Roth, arguably remain some of the most creative and disturbing films to hit mass audiences in the last decade. The premise is that there is a ring of youth hostels that lures backpackers to a small town in Slovakia, where they are summarily tortured and killed by the highest bidder: international businessmen, corporate CEO’s, princes, anyone who can write a big enough check. The organizer of these torture killings is a secret society known as Elite Hunting Club. Membership in the Club requires a bloodhound tattoo, which is also a guarantee that members won’t snitch.
Roth is largely credited with popularizing the “torture porn” genre, which most would say the Saw series also belongs to. Other filmmakers thought of being in this vein include Alexandre Aja and Rob Zombie, members of the so-called Splat Pack. Hostel (2005) had a decidedly Japanese aesthetic and borrowed heavily from the work of directors such as Takashi Miike. Hostel: Part II took on a giallo tone and paid homage to Italian filmmakers such as Ruggero Deodato, Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Both Hostel films have their detractors, many who argue that Hostel and its ilk are artless and simply titillate the audience with sexualized gore.
Whether you enjoy the Hostel films or not, there is no doubt that Hostel: Part III is a major step down for the franchise in terms of plot, acting, directing, special effects and any other measure. The setting of Las Vegas for example adds nothing to the premise, and in fact may detract from it. I think for most people Las Vegas is not a place for high-rollers; it is a vacation spot for families and a hedonistic escape for the working class to squander a few paychecks on gambling, alcohol, and strippers.
Given what we know about Elite Hunting Club from the first two Hostel films, I think a more appropriate venue would be Macau, Singapore or Monte Carlo. In other words, places where we can imagine high-rollers spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day. While such excess is certainly possible in Las Vegas we get no hint of it from either Elite Hunting Club clients or Management. The clients we learn nothing of, in fact we barely even see their faces. They do not seem elegant or well-dressed, or even especially rich. Management meanwhile seems utterly incompetent. If the West Coast branch of Elite Hunting Club is this clueless, perhaps it’s time for the Head Office to provide some quality control.
The sole purpose for Hostel: Part III to take place in Las Vegas seems to be that Elite Hunting Club members can place bets on how people will be tortured and killed. The idea is promising but it is barely used. For example, in one scene members are betting on how long it will take the victim to invoke his family as a reason to be spared. That particular death was novel although fairly unrealistic, the victim having his face surgically removed while still awake. Other deaths are similarly quirky but offer no real substance: a man getting pumped full of arrows from a crossbow and a woman who gets smothered by live cockroaches.
The acting is passable but a far cry from the quality of the first two films. One exception is Albanian-born Nickola Shreli as Victor, the Ukrainian we are introduced to in the first scene. He is essentially the only actor who appears to be experiencing genuine emotional anguish. A true hero in the film, Victor fights for his beloved Anka to the very end. All of the other characters however come off as one-dimensional, and for the most part their deaths do not invoke any emotion one way or another.
One saving grace is that there are plenty of plot twists and turns, enough to keep even the most jaded horror fan’s attention. To be fair, Hostel: Part III is for the most part watchable. Its flaws only become apparent in comparison with the first two films. In some ways it is unfair that “direct-to-DVD” sequels get such a bad rep. Hellraiser: Revelations for example proved itself to some Hellraiser fans, despite its $300,000 budget and two-week shooting schedule.
Hostel: Part III on the other hand reportedly had a budget of $6 million, which is more than the $4.5 million budget of the first Hostel. Hellraiser: Revelations was a pleasant surprise considering its low budget and tight shooting schedule. Hostel: Part III merely met expectations.
“Direct” sequels are not necessarily a bad development by any means. By all reports Eli Roth was more or less devastated by the weak reception that Hostel: Part II received in the theater. A working copy of the film had leaked in advance of its theatrical release, essentially derailing enthusiasm for the film and giving millions of downloaders a reason not to purchase tickets in the theater. It comes as no surprise that Roth would forego directing Part III, choosing instead only to write some of the characters.
It’s a shame, though, that director Scott Spiegel chose to waste a fairly good concept and not to push the envelope. A “direct” sequel can serve as a placeholder for a franchise, but it should strive to break new ground. Since Hostel: Part III is so far removed from the other two films plot-wise, it is essentially isolated, the film equivalent of a comic book “one-shot”.
Spiegel could have pushed the film in any number of directions. He could have let his imagination run wild. Instead, we are presented with a largely forgettable entry to the series. Neither good nor bad, it simply is. If movie studios want to continue to push “direct” sequels they should respect their audience enough to produce a film that is good enough to release in theaters. Hostel: Part III meets that requirement, but just barely.
With a little more innovation Hostel: Part III could have been just as good as the first two Hostels. Hopefully Eli Roth will return for a fourth entry, or else an entirely new director is chosen, someone who is not afraid to take risks and to create their own unique vision.
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