Monday, June 25, 2007

Again With The Eli


Previously, I had commented on the fact that I hadn't seen Hostel Part II and should do so to avoid any hypocrisy since I had weighted-in on the film so much.

So I saw it last night and I have some thoughts.

After seeing it, I thought that watching a horror movie could very much be described as "torture." You walk into the theater knowing bad things are going to happen. Scary things. Things are going to jump out at you but you don't know when or where. You will be tense. You will cower. You will hide your eyes. That's horror. Eli Roth has taken that in a literal sense and he has shown us torture and thought it to be horror. But such is a mistake of a young director. One of many that he makes in this film.

There has been much made about Hostel Part II on this blog as well as many others about the subject matter of this film. Having seen it now, it ain't that bad. But that's to say that torture isn't bad and I'm not saying that. The scenes set up are disturbing and I understand that. But as far as the graphic nature of this film, it isn't terrible. And honestly, there isn't much torture involved. I agree with Dennis at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, that the torture of Hostel Part II pales in comparison to the likes of Takashi Miike's Audition. And honestly, the movie Hard Candy is a much better example of a movie that deals with the subject of torture. So really, Eli Roth has failed in making a torture movie that truly deals with torture.

Which leads me to believe that Eli does need the rest of the summer off as he stated on his MySpace page. He should take a breather, gather his thoughts and figure out his place in horror because he really isn't a bad director. Maybe just a bit misguided. I think of the Thanksgiving trailer he did for Grindhouse. This was Roth having fun and it was impossible not to have fun watching it. There you can see that Eli's heart lies with the 80's slasher movies and it is from there that he draws his inspiration. The characters in Hostel Part II follow very much the cliched lines of those movies. You have the slut in Bijou Phillips, the Sandra Dee character in Heather Matarazzo and the big sister in Lauren German. There is no more depth to them past that. Richard Burgi and Roger Bart play the rich business men and top bidders in the torture market. Richard is gung-ho about the possibility of torturing a young beautiful woman and takes delight in the idea. Roger is hesitant from the get-go. But when it comes time to the actual torturing, Richard bags out and Roger turns out to be the truly twisted one. Jeez, who saw that one coming? It doesn't make sense to address material that seems so real, that being of a hostel that's actually a torture palace, with such cliched characters. But maybe that's a blessing.

Probably the most disturbing thing I discovered in watching Hostel Part II is this: A scythe dragging across skin makes me cringe and cover my eyes. However, I have no reaction to someone getting their head chopped off. Disturbing indeed.

13 comments:

pacheco said...

Now I don't feel so weird for not being scared by all the decapitation and dismemberment. As I said in my review, it's the anticipation of what could happen that scares me, and Roth disappoints me because what he shows pales in comparison to my anticipation.

But you and I are seeing a lot of the same things in this film, and in Roth.

Damian said...

Probably the most disturbing thing I discovered in watching Hostel Part II is this: A scythe dragging across skin makes me cringe and cover my eyes. However, I have no reaction to someone getting their head chopped off. Disturbing indeed.

I made a joke once in which I said that if a filmmaker depicted a character getting a paper cut (showing the edge of the paper slicing the skin open in close-up with the person wincing in pain and the tiniest trickle of blood coming out), it would far more disturbing to the people in the audience then any amoung of decapitations and dismemeberment that Eli Roth would show. At the time I made that statement I was joking, but now I think there might actually be some truth to it because the papercut is something everyone can understand. We've all gotten a paper cut and well know how much it stings like the dickens. Very few of us have gotten our heads chopped off so we don't really know what it feels like. This essentially boils down to the "less is more" theory.

As I'm going through my Spielberg project right now, I find myself analyzing his approach to scaring people and it seems to me that he understand audience identification is very important to the creation of fear and suspense. As I write in my piece on Jaws, Spielberg wisely shoots the majority of the film at water level (which is how all of us experience swimming) and rarely shows the shark. His reasoning being that more people are afraid of the water than they are of sharks. I think he's right. Very few of us have ever met a shark but we've all gone swimming. Jaws taps into something very primal and universal. It takes the "less is more" approach and it is consequently very effective. I think this is one of many lessons that Roth needs to learn before he becomes a competent filmmaker because (and this is ignoring the personal issues I have with him) I honestly don't think he's that talented of a director. People say he has potential and I won't deny that, but I think everyone has potential. I think Brett ratner and Tony Scott and Michael Bay have potential (Well, okay. Maybe not Michael Bay, but you get the point).

Anyway, I know that you wanted to see the film, Piper, so that you could actually give an educated opinion on it and I think that's an admirable thing. Maybe (and that's a huge "maybe") someday I'll follow suit and check it out as well, but I doubt it. If so, it certainly won't be for a long time. I admit it could be a good film (technically, aesthetically, artistically and/or morally), but then again perhaps it's bad in one or all of these areas. I hear so many conflicting opinions that I really don't know and, quite frankly, I really don't care anymore. I think life is just too short. I'll work instead on trying to see the 1,001 greatest films ever made before I die.

Ray said...

Very perceptive review, Piper. It's time for some of these Hollywood hacks to read it and figure out how to re-envigorate true R-rated horror.

Piper said...

Damian,

Your responses are posts all by themselves.

The Jaws reference is excellent. The beheading doesn't scare me because it's not scary. It's graphic. Spielberg exceeds because he understands people and knows what makes them tick. He knows scary. He knows drama.

But the beheading doesn't scare me because it's not real and I know it's not real. Sure it's horrifying to see a head fly through the air, but I just know it's not real. The blade against the skin was real. It was very human. That's why I cringed.

I don't know if Eli has potential or not. He can run a camera, but with crews these days. Who knows what any more.

And I would take the potential comment about Tony Scott as unfair (he did direct True Romance which is an excellent film - of course, he hasn't really reached that level since), but my Dad once told me that if at the age of 95 someone told him he showed potential he would take that as the highest compliment. If we always show potential, we're always working for something.

Piper said...

Ray,

You're absolutely right. If the 'R' rated horror movies rests in the hands of Eli Roth, we are indeed in trouble.

Damian said...

And I would take the potential comment about Tony Scott as unfair (he did direct True Romance which is an excellent film - of course, he hasn't really reached that level since)...

Well, my intent was not to offend, Piper. I will admit that I did enjoy True Romance and Crimson Tide though it was mosly for things like performance and dialogue and not for Scott's disorienting visual style which just doesn't do much for me. The only film Tony has made so far where I thought the style aptly suited the subject matter was Man on Fire (which was also, I would argue, a film with depth and substance... unusual for Tony). So, no I don't dig on Tony Scott (I prefer his brother Ridley) though he may be the best of the three that I mentioned. I probably should've used Uwe Boll as an example instead but I (happily) haven't seen seen any of his movies yet.

Neil Sarver said...

On the Re-Animator commentary, Stuart Gordon notes that there's a moment people always cringe at and comment to him about, in which a hand is cut. And with all the more horrible events, it took him a while to realize it was the relatable quality of that pain, compared to, say, decapitation. I think horror movies should all have hand cutting moments, as it were, even if decapitation is also part of the game plan.

Piper said...

Damian,

Never apologize. You did not offend at all. I always welcome discussion. Encourage it.

You are probably right about Tony Scott. He hit with True Romance. But lest we forget, this is the guy responsible for Top Gun. I never forget that. I agree with you about the brother comment, but as of late, I am not a fan of Ridley.

Give me the Blade Runners, the Legends, the Thelma and Louises over the Black Hawk Downs and Gladiators any day.

Piper said...

Excellent point Neil.

You are right. Something to keep them grounded and human.

Erich Kuersten said...

God Damn this is a nice blog! I'd like to pipe in on this topic, as it's a doozy. I found neither HARD CANDY nor AUDITION that uncomfortable in the least, A woman can torture a woman and a man can torture a man, and a woman can always feel free to torture all the men she wants, but there's something about the implicit sexual misogyny thing that gets me down when a man kills or beats a woman.

Being a pre-teen in the 1980s during the initial slasher run had a lot to do with this deep aversion, I am sure. I was traumatized by Siskel and Ebert's screenings of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE clips as they condemned violence against women (they praised HALLOWEEN though, and understandably so).

Kids today (!) on the other hand, are brought up on this stuff on cable. They see Texas Chainsaw Massacre the original, and are bored since there's so little blood (and no emo rock score or hot chicks from the WB). For me now, the movies aren't scary so much as I come away traumatized by man's inhumanity to man and my own base responses to it.

I think Eli Roth is coming from a place where he is trying to be post-SCREAM detached, finding a new voice... after all in CABIN FEVER, the big twist was, of course, that the kids camping out in the cabin turn out to be the real villains - the locals all act rather rationally. i think he's trying to do something involving luring teens to the theater promising a sort of rite of passage, and then tweaking their expectations.

I just saw ROSEMARY'S BABY again for the first time in decades, and there's a classic example of the very observant point of you have to "feel it" to fear it... we feel Mia's horrible pain from the pregnancy and are frustrated by her Satan doctor's patronizing dismissal as "perfectly normal, should go away in a day or two." After that movie and the goosebumps it gave me for hours afterwards, I remembered how horror films can actually scare you in a good way, a fun way that increases your love of movies rather than makes you ashamed to be a human being.

Piper said...

Erich,

Thanks. Visit often and post always.

You make a great point about Last House On The Left which I saw at a young age and regretted it because of the content. Wes screwed me up with that one.

It's obvious that Eli is trying to take the horror genre in a new direction and while I think that's a good idea, I just don't like where he's taken it.

You bring up Scream and that's a good example of the last wave of horror. Granted it's Wes Craven, but he didn't announce to the world that he was going to take horror in a new direction. He just made a great movie. That's my ultimate message to Roth. Shut the hell up and go make a good movie.

Erich Kuersten said...

Thanks. yeah, I get the impression that he's holding back, being arch. He's "too cool" to pour his heart and soul into something like a sympathetic character-- so it comes out very mean-spirited in that way that young hipsters will be when they've let cynicism rule their lives and art.

Garrett said...

Go see Delta Farce and write a review for that. I dare you.