I may be in the minority, but I felt Hostel Part II was pretty brilliant. Hostel felt tentative, presenting its ideas at face value, but Part II found director/writer Eli Roth expanding his universe with a black-comic glee that was far more in tune with his debut feature Cabin Fever than a studio slasher movie. Now, four years after the second film died an unjust death at the box office, Sony's gone back to the well with this low-budget effort, and the result is sadly but not unexpectedly missing the same level of inspiration. Made without any participation from Roth (a real shame, considering he hasn't directed a feature since), this DTV entry fails to stick to the mythology of the series, and the scope of everything (the writing, the direction, the cast) has taken a serious hit. On one hand, it's probably about as good as one can expect a Roth-less DTV Hostel sequel to be, but that doesn't make it a very good movie.
After two entries abroad, III moves the action to the United States, specifically Vegas, where soon-to-be-married Scott (Brian Hallisay), his best man Carter (Kip Pardue), realist/nice guy/gimp Justin (John Hensley), and the exceptionally obnoxious Mike (Skyler Stone) are having a bachelor party. After a night of drinking and dancing with "professional" party girls Kendra (Sarah Habel) and Nikki (Zulay Henao), they quickly discover their numbers are dropping one by one, victims of an American branch of the Elite Hunting club.
Hostel Part III is directed by Scott Spiegel, producer of the first two Hostels and co-writer of Evil Dead II. Seeing his name attached gave me hope (at least he's a genre vet), but the main trick Spiegel and screenwriter Michael D. Weiss have to offer is slight subversion of the audience's expectations. The prologue and the first victim are clever twists worth a chuckle, but even that kind of invention is in short supply: at some point, the movie has no choice but to become a Hostel film, and in doing so, the film turns formulaic (abduction, shock, killing, escape attempts). The script has a few other interesting ideas -- the illusion of safety at home as opposed to away, spoofing The Hangover (if that was the intent) -- but they lay dormant and undeveloped.
Although I suppose there must be some sort of specific fanbase, given Sony's gone and bankrolled this thing, it seems odd to call oneself "a fan of the series," yet that's where most of my complaints stem from. One of the smartest little details in Hostel Part II is the visible increase in security at the "hostel" following the first film. It's a touch that shows Roth put some thought into how the organization worked and the logistics of running that kind of business. Weiss, on the other hand, has not invested as much effort. The new branch is inside a hotel way out in the desert, and it's packed with Vegas-style additions, like curtained observation rooms where viewers can place bets on the victim (how long before they try to bargain by mentioning their family, what instrument of torture the killer will use). It's a nice surface-level idea, but it raises a ton of questions. Is no one suspicious of a trail of limousines going to and from an abandoned-looking hotel? The establishment has Playboy bunny style waitresses: how do the proprietors screen these employees and prevent them from talking? These changes also result in a weird shift of focus for the business: in the first two, the rich were paying to get the thrill of killing, and the victims were sort of collateral damage; here, there's almost no focus on the murderers thsmelves as opposed to the bettors, and that feels a little weak (I guess the thrill of betting on how someone is going to die seems less potent than that of getting to participate).
On a technical level, Spiegel is unable to hide the distinct difference in budget between his entry and Roth's, and the small-scale nature of the film stands out like a bit of a sore thumb (likely playing a part in some of the reductions mentioned above). A few cheap CGI effects rear their heads, and despite the "Unrated" moniker, the film is far less violent than either of its predecessors. The passable cast that do their jobs without any egregious mis-steps (highlights being Chris Coy and Nickola Shreli in small but crucial roles, both of whom are more interesting than the movie's leads). It all builds to an unusual ending that totally ignores the psychological implications of the premise of the Elite Hunting club, which I would've said the first two films are crucially curious about. All things considered, Hostel Part III could be a far worse movie, but the handful of things it does decently are more like lucky spins on the roulette wheel than a concentrated effort by the filmmakers.
Thumbs up for the Vegas-style neon-light treatment of the logo, thumbs down for poor Photoshop. I mean, is it really that hard to create a few cheap props, get a guy and take a photo of him? The disc is housed in an ECO-case (the kind that uses less plastic, not the kind with holes in it), and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Hostel Part III actually looks fairly nice on DVD. Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer has a graininess to it that feels like film -- I can't find any information on whether it was actually shot on 35mm (which I guess seems unusual for a DTV feature), but it appears that way. One could argue that this makes the transfer look soft and decreases fine detail, but I'd rather have a film-like presentation like this over a more bland-looking, grain-free image. The one issue the transfer does struggle with a little bit is crush on dark surfaces (primarily clothing), and contrast seems a little weak (I'd have liked deeper, inkier blacks).
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, sadly, has that "direct-to-video" feel: the sound effects pack less of a punch, the music doesn't carry as much weight, and the whole thing sounds a little cheap. I can't say it ruins the experience, but I feel like it's a missed opportunity to try and really put the viewer in Vegas (the casino the characters hit up is visibly small scale, but a fuller, richer ambience might've helped sell it more), or to increase the size of the new "hostel." Parisian French, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai 5.1 tracks are also included, as well as English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Scott Spiegel and Actor Kip Pardue: The only extra on the disc is a surprisingly decent commentary track with the director and star. Although they trot out the whole "I hope you've watched the movie before you listened to the commentary" joke, Pardue is actually a very good moderator, asking Spiegel questions and sincerely trying to inform the audience on the logistics and minutia that go into producing a movie. Spiegel is more anecdote heavy, remembering stories of Pardue on set and from the hectic production schedule. I don't know if Hostel Part III will prove interesting enough for fans to flip on a commentary, but if they do, this is actually a fairly engaging listen.
A promo for Blu-Ray and trailers for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Retreat, Attack the Block, Drive, and Columbiana play before the main menu. No trailer for Hostel Part III has been included.
Serious fans of Roth's entries are likely to be let down, but it's far from the worst DTV sequel. It's not terrible enough to tell the extra-curious to stay away, just be sure to rent it instead of purchasing.
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