Paxton: You fucking whore. You fucking bitch, YOU FUCKING BITCH!
Natalya: I get a lot of money for you. That makes you MY bitch.Hostel
There is something so satisfying when Natalya delivers this line, despite her clearly being an antagonist. It is a brief respite and reversal of the frat bro antics that saturate the first portion of Hostel. It functions as the brief schadenfreude we need in order to transition into actually rooting for Paxton.
If you took this dialogue and made a movie based off it, you would have Hostel: Part II.
Hostel: Part II culminates with our protagonist, a lesbian, castrating a man for calling her a cunt, and outspending him in order to buy her way into being the final girl.
It isn’t hard to imagine the kind of reception this ending would receive now if it was released by a female writer and director. If Hostel: Part II had been marketed and promoted like 2019’s Black Christmas, it would have been advertised as a “queer feminist torture porn movie”, and people would have review bombed the shit out of it before it even hit theaters. But that is not how this movie was made or promoted. Hostel: Part II was made by Eli Roth in 2007, and advertised as straight up misogynistic torture porn with some hints at the political commentary Roth was going for about the Bush administration:
But Hostel: Part II is not the misogynistic film it appears to be at first glance. For a “torture porn” movie made by a director who “hates political correctness,”Hostel: Part II is pretty damn feminist, and gives us an amazing lesbian character. And still packs buckets of gore in keeping pace with its subgenre peers.
In a way, the Hostel films are a tour de force in intention vs. impact. Eli Roth is very intelligent and deliberate with some of the ideas he is exploring in these movies. But his political commentaries are like South Park; he isn’t beholden to anything or anyone; he is making movies to mock & shock us. And although he deliberately uses Hostel: Part II to respond to some of the critiques hurled at Hostel, he doesn’t really acknowledge the shockingly progressive gender and sex politics of this film, save for this throwaway quote:
“…with this sequel, people will think ‘Hostel’ plus women equals misogyny. But the women in this movie are so smart and so strong, that I truly believe the film will be seen as a feminist film.”Eli Roth, “Horror: The New Chick Flick?”
Had Hostel: Part II been more successful (piracy and fading interest in torture porn really hurt the film’s gross), I think we might have seen Roth go in a different direction. But sadly this film didn’t reach its audience, and Roth went on to make The Green Inferno and Death Wish, both of which fly in the face of progressive stances and politics. Almost to the point it seems like a deliberate, hard 180 after making this film. Whether accidentally or intentionally, Hostel: Part II is a layered, queer, and ultimately feminist film. So how the the hell did we get there from Hostel? It starts with the way Roth built on the strengths of the first film, and moved away from its mistakes.
Hostel is a movie with a lot of intentional and unintentional homophobia. In interviews about the film, Roth justifies the frequent use of the word fag by saying that is just how young guys like the ones in the film talk to their friends. Although viewers often comment on how terrible the main characters are and how they “can’t wait for them to die”, the gay slurs aren’t expressly intended to make you feel this way. If anything, Roth’s insinuation that “that is just how people talk” implies that is meant to make us relate to the characters. Roth also tells an interesting story related to the inspiration of the film’s “main” antagonist, the Dutch Businessman (aka Salad Fingers). He based the character in part on a story he heard about a repressed gay man who claimed to be cured of homosexuality by conversion therapy, but ended up stabbing another man at a bar. While telling the story, Eli insinuates it is shitty that people are driven to repress their sexual urges so much that they would lash out in violent ways as a result of their frustration. While the film could be interpreted that way, we aren’t meant to appreciate the Dutch Businessman’s struggle. As viewers of any film, we are meant to root for the protagonists. And the protagonists are disturbed by the Dutch Businessman and his queerness. Josh is ultimately tortured and murdered as a result of the Dutch Businessman’s monstrous queerness being unleashed. Although it is hinted that one of our protagonists Josh may be secretly gay, this is never a key point in the story, so the queerness depicted in the movie is all traced back to one of the antagonists.
Hostel‘s characters are given some traces of depth but not enough to emotionally connect us with them, so the torture does seem more for titillation than horror. The women in Hostel are all prostitutes, antagonists, or Kana – who kills herself after seeing that she is disfigured. Let’s just say its not doing women any favors. Although the characters aren’t deep, the film does do a neat flip with the trope of the final “girl”, and it works. When we meet Paxton, Oli, and Josh, Josh is clearly the male stand in for the final girl. He is the quietest, most conscientious one out of the trio by a long shot. While Oli and Paxton are shown sleeping with multiple women, Josh only sleeps with Natalya after they get to know one another (in the sense that Josh dumps all his emotional baggage on her while she listens…). Later, when Josh starts to feel the effects of the drug that is slipped to him by Natalya and Svetlana, he opts to go back to the hostel and sleep it off, while Paxton gets locked into and subsequently passes out in a storage closet at the bar. We are at the midpoint in the movie, and it is revealed Josh has been brought to the factory, and he is brutally killed in front of our eyes. Paxton, the obnoxious sidekick, is now our main character. And what happened to Josh is so utterly brutal and insane, it makes us desperately want someone to make it out alive.
The inadvertent genius of Hostel: Part II is the way it addresses these two issues of the first film. Right off the bat, it is a queer positive film. In Hostel: Part II, we are given a rare example of a lesbian final girl. Although subtle, it is very difficult to not see that Beth is gay. Unlike the plausible deniability present with Josh, we know Beth is queer because of her desire to follow Axelle (whose name is meant to be a nod to Alexi, the guy who tells the main characters in the first film about the hostel) to Slovakia. The way Lauren German and Bijou Phillips play their exchange on the train when discussing following to Axelle to Slovakia comes across like one friend saying to another “play along as my wing woman and let me have this experience.”
Without seeing the Hostel, you could interpret Hostel: Part II as a warning against following queer desire. After all, Axelle is a beautiful woman who ultimately leads Beth to her doom because Beth wants her. But because the first film shows us young men who are led to their dooms because they insist on following beautiful young women, it just seems like a neat twist that it is two women, but otherwise par for the course in the sequel.
Out lesbian actress Heather Matarazzo plays the Josh-like Lorna. This was shortly after Matarazzo came out, and was finding it tough to get roles:
“You mean you’re going to cast me as a straight girl and give me a romance with a guy? That’s a first!” And I’m like, “Yeaaaah.” And she’s like, “No one’s done that.” I’m like, “Heather, you’re an amazing actress. I don’t think anyone really cares whether you’re gay or straight. They love you and they want to see you do a great performance. People weren’t thinking of that when you’re in the character. It’s irrelevant.” She’s like, “No director since I’ve come out has ever cast me as a straight person.” I’m like, “Heather, I’m casting you because you’re a great actor. Not because of who you are or any of that.”Eli Roth, “HOSTEL 2—The Evening Class Roundtable Interview With Eli Roth, Pt. 1“
Another scene in this film that can be read as queer is the most famous set piece from the film, the “Elizabeth Bathory” scene in which Lorna is strung up naked and murdered by an older woman who writhes around in a blood lust as Lorna’s blood rains down on her. The Bathory scene does draw an unfortunate parallel to Kana in depicting another woman who commits violence because of an issue with her appearance, but it also have a lesbian vampire subtext that is fun in a sickly intelligent way. It is hard to watch because Lorna is so likable. It is hinted that she is on a strong medication for a mental illness that should not be mixed with alcohol. Whitney, not realizing Lorna isn’t supposed to drink, tricks her into drinking an alcoholic cider. But moreover, Lorna is smitten and gullible to the charms of a seemingly sweet man who shows her attention at the Harvest Festival, which ultimately leads to her death, again cutting the potential to read Beth’s queer attraction as the reason she is nearly killed.
Beyond rectifying the homophobia of the first film, Hostel: Part II gives us likable characters we want to root for from the beginning. Beth is a smart, resourceful lead character who does exactly what the audience would do time and time again. Although Whitney is “the slutty friend”, there is a genuine chemistry between the actresses that smooths away the tropes and leaves us with a character who feels very real and human. Unlike the promiscuous friends who often come across as cruel in other horror films, Whitney’s teasing seems good-natured. Likewise, some people find Lorna whiny, but I dare you to not identify with her more and more the older and more self-aware you get. Roth states in his commentaries on this film that he knew he would have to film it differently since it was going to have female protagonists, and the way he develops these characters makes it pack an effective emotional punch when terrible things happen to them.
In Hostel: Part II, we also get more insight into the people who patronize the Elite Hunting Club through the lens of American friends Todd and Stuart. The commentary of toxic masculinity and misogyny could practically write itself at this point, but here are the highlights.
We first witness an AMAZING bidding scene in one of the most clever sequences of the movie:
This bidding scene sets up the way the characters are to be objectified by Todd and Stuart. Although Stuart seems reluctant, Todd insists that killing someone will make them terrifying alpha men that no one will want to mess with. Todd has Whitney made up in garish makeup and lingerie, whispering that she probably used her face “to get whatever she wanted” while threatening to stick a buzz saw though it. But the moment Todd accidentally and severely hurts Whitney, he panics and refuses to complete the kill.
Stuart initially seems to regret the whole situation when he approaches Beth in the torture chamber, trying to calm her down and assure her that even though he is meant to kill her that “someone brought me here, the same as you.” His empty assurance of their equality in this moment, while she sits before him in chains, is one of the best inadvertent metaphors for privilege I’ve ever seen. Although Beth seems to reason with Stuart, reassuring him that “he’s not that kind of guy,” she inadvertently triggers his desire to be that kind of guy. Stuart blames his problems on everyone but himself, not unlike the kind of person who would find themselves in an incel or red pill forum. He, like Todd, desires to be an alpha male who commands desire/fear from women and fear/admiration from men. After he finishes the job Todd started with Whitney, he returns to Beth and projects all his frustrations at his wife onto her. It is made clear that Beth has been selected because she looks like Stuart’s wife. Stuart whines that she “doesn’t respect him, doesn’t have sex with him, humiliates him after he returns home from work.” Beth catches on, and reminds him that he isn’t his wife, and then plays an easy card: she pretends to be sexually excited by him in order to get him to untie her, and before he penetrates her she knocks him out and ties him up to the chair while yelling “get in the FUCKING chair.” The camera begins stalking along with her as she moves around the room in a way that is reminiscent of an angry, caged animal. In this moment, she has completely reversed their power dynamic, and will now proceed to actually humiliate him. She penetrates his ear with a screwdriver when he refuses to tell her the code to the door, which is revealed to be her birthday. Again, Beth is given the opportunity to echo the audience when she mutters “well that is fucking sick.” The code ends up alerting the guards that the intended victim has somehow gotten the upper hand.
And now I have to say a few words about that scene at the end. The infamous “eyegasm” of the first one, meant to be both horrifically disgusting and badass in a technical sense, is paralleled by the shocking castration at the end of this one which is meant be almost comical and badass in a narrative sense. We are excited to see Beth defeat her antagonist, and escape. It is an incredibly well-earned moment, paying off not one but two Chekhov’s Guns from earlier in the film: Beth’s wealth and her hatred of the word cunt. It also leaves us with an incredibly mixed message that seems to gel with Roth’s desire to shock & mock us.
Although the film certainly takes potshots at our Stockholm Syndrome with capitalism, it ultimately makes us cheer the loudest when we realize Beth is rich and can simply buy her way out of the factory. It also makes us root for the torture to happen. Unlike the eyegasm when we are meant to mirror Paxton’s despair, we are meant to cheer for Beth as she makes literal dog food out of a man’s genitals. We are also cued by the music to appreciate when Axelle’s decapitated head is used as a soccer ball by the Bubble Gum Gang. Although this reading is dark, it also tracks with most horror film narratives. To defeat the darkness, we have to become it. And then we are left with the difficult work of trying to move on. This leaves us with two loose ends at the end that could potentially unravel a bit of this analysis. First is the fact that we see Beth get the Elite Hunting Club tattoo as a tramp stamp.
This has always bothered me. But because I love this movie and want to rationalize my analysis of it as an accidentally queer feminist masterpiece, this is my theory. Beth wanted to get the tattoo in a place that is both discreet, and could be passed off as a drunken mistake of a tattoo she got while backpacking through Europe as an art student. You’re welcome if you too want to use that rationalization to defend a 13-year-old movie that most people have actively tried to forget.
The second critique is that Beth enlists the help of the Bubble Gum Gang to take revenge on her love interest Axelle by decapitating her. To me this is a bigger blow to my positive queer reading of the film than Axelle serving as a lesbian femme fatale, but I don’t think it undoes my reading. This parallels Paxton making the premeditated decision to murder the Dutch Businessman to avenge himself and his friends at the end of Hostel. Moreover, it negates the reading that Beth has truly joined the Elite Hunting Club. By killing Sasha’s beloved Axelle, Beth has willingly put herself in danger again in order to avenge herself and her friends. Had she just walked away with her tattoo, it could be assumed she would just take the win and let things go. But this ending hints that Beth will not just place nice and walk away.
It makes me happy to see positive comments about this film and its characters. I know this reading of it will be polarizing to fans who don’t like to think of the politics of horror films. But just like the boogeyman in Halloween, the politics are real and exist within all films whether we like it or not. In this case, I think this movie happens to lend itself to a very progressive reading without intentionally being made that way. And I for one love it for that. You could easily watch Hostel: Part II and see a torture porn slasher with a cool story. But if you want to dig deeper, there’s some juicy meat on these bones to bite into.