The torture scenes in writer-director Eli Roth’s Hostel openly evoked the 2003 Abu Ghraib photographs, which depicted United States military and Central Intelligence Agency personnel subjecting Iraqi prisoners to acts of profound cruelty and abuse. The film also addressed post-9/11 U.S.A.’s widespread xenophobia and confusion in the midst of an incompetent administration while satirizing upper-class masculinist group dynamics. Shortly after Hostel enjoyed overwhelming mainstream success, David Edelstein published “Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn” for New York magazine, an article that leveled unilateral arguments against the wave of brutal films flooding the American mainstream — including Hostel, but also films such as Wolf Creek, The Devil’s Rejects, and the Saw franchise.
This incendiary context set the stage for Roth’s Hostel: Part II, which acts both as an inversion and political expansion of its predecessor. Where Hostel offers a glib satire of homosocial desire among hyper-masculine males, the sequel focuses on a trio of young women. If Hostel reacts to the Abu Ghraib photographs by leveling a critique against unchecked western military imperialism, Part II condemns rampant late-capitalist neoliberalism at large. In 2007, the sequel’s political resonance was lost amidst blanket arguments against “torture porn” (a term that Edelstein’s article leaves unfortunately broad and open-ended); in 2017, its nastily incisive observations remain too relevant to be brushed aside.
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