Cruel summer

Eli Roth makes torture look pretty, without the social commentary



All Eli Roth really needs is a solid punch in the face. It's not exactly groundbreaking to decry the work of the current poster boy for the despicable and swiftly spreading torture porn craze, but the real problem is not that Roth toils in a loathsome, indefensible genre; it's because he does it so well. Eli Roth makes really pretty horror pictures, his blood splatters are artful, his cruelty inventive, his pacing and scene framing are impeccable; dude knows his shit. The trouble is that his "stuff" isn't worth making, his savagery is tiresome, his relentless dehumanizing use of violence isn't funny, and it's not half as clever as Mr. Roth thinks it is.

Worse yet, the gag is blown, if you've seen the first Hostel, then you know the deal; the attractive, wealthy young students we meet on a Euro holiday aren't really people worth knowing, but simply fleshy furniture for the elaborate hack-and-stab set pieces yet to come.

We know the game going in, and Roth is so intent on inverting expectations that when Heather Matarazzo's sweetly gawky Lorna — the film's only remotely likable character — gets trussed up naked, hanged upside down and carved like a rack of lamb it's not shocking, just sad. Equally unrewarding is the fate of the characters that actually deserve to die, like the vicious, repugnant yuppie scum Todd, played by Richard Burgi, because to Roth seeing the bad guys get theirs isn't a moral result, but a treat thrown to the audience for obediently surrendering to their secret blood lust.

Even the most pacifist moviegoer will be rooting for some slaughter during the movie's interminable middle third, where time is wasted developing disposable characters — time that would be better spent conversing with a cardboard stand-up in the lobby. All this slack space leaves time to ponder questions like this: Where do all these creepy-looking Eurotrash bit players come from, and how can this shadowy, tourist-killing organization employ more goons and spies than Cobra and al-Qaeda without someone spilling the beans?

Better directors like Romero, Cronenberg and Craven have used horror smartly to make social comment, but that's not on the agenda here, only shock and gore. If anything, Roth might be pointing out that enough money can lead anyone to soulless depravity, and he proves it by making a fortune off reprehensible garbage and laughing at the resulting outrage. He's the Hollywood version of that annoying snot-nosed kid in the back of the classroom who stops calling names and shooting spitballs the second everyone stops caring. Or, they put a tack on his chair.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to

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