To dismiss the Hostel movies as thoughtless "torture porn" of the Saw variety doesn't do justice to the sophistication behind them, even if that sophistication is undermined on occasion by dumb juvenilia. The first Hostel, though rough around the edges, spoke to the very real anxieties of Americans in a post-9/11 world; no longer was the world a playground for frat guys and bad behavior overseas could result in a little blowback. Though he might have just offered another slab of young backpackers (women this time) to deepest Slovakia, writer-director Eli Roth changes the metaphor in Hostel: Part II by focusing almost as much on the torturers as the tortured. Because these victims are sold off to the highest bidder, the film literally considers the cost of human life and the power of money to afford experiences that are supposed to be priceless. It's also, in its sick, sick way, a real crowd-pleaser.
As with the first Hostel, Roth takes his sweet time setting things up. After, um, severing the sole connection to the atrocities committed last time around, the film heads to Rome, where much like the previous revelers, three young women (Lauren German, Bijou Phillips, and Heather Matarazzo) decide to spice up their European vacation by heading further east. Claiming that Slovakia has the most relaxing hot springs in the world, a mysterious acquaintance convinces them to bypass Prague and stay at the infamous hostel, which is their last stop on the way to the torture factory. Meanwhile, an unctuous American tycoon (Richard Burgi) wins the bid for two of the women and takes along his buddy Roger Bart, an average suburban dad who clearly has misgivings about their little adventure.
The relationship between the two businessmen—and how they're later transformed by the experience of being torturers—is by far Hostel: Part II's most fascinating element, like a cross between The Game and In The Company Of Men. For them, the act of killing promises to be a rite-of-passage into super-manhood, though Roth gets some sharp laughs from the fact that their victims are prepared for them much like a fruit basket at a Fiji resort. (Having them alerted by the sort of beeper they'd get at Cheesecake Factory is a particularly clever touch.) Outside the material with the would-be torturers, Roth doesn't do enough to separate the second film from the first, and the early scenes suffer from repetition. But there's a keen intelligence behind all that gleeful degradation and it pays off in a finish that's at once ironic, satirical, and perversely satisfying.