Hostel: Part III (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Scott (Brian Hallisay) was about to be married in a week so Carter (Kip Pardue), the best man, decided to take his friend to Las Vegas, Palm Springs being their cover from Amy (Kelly Thiebaud), for a bachelor’s party with Justin (John Hensley) and Mike (Skyler Stone). As the four gambled, Kendra (Sarah Habel) and Nikki (Zulay Henao) eyed Scott from a distance and later informed them that there was a party way out from The Strip. As the hours passed by, Mike was eventually nowhere to be found. “Hostel: Part III,” written by Michael D. Weiss and directed by Scott Spiegel, was promising because of its surprising first scene involving a scraggly guy in his twenties (Chris Coy) who mistakenly entered an Eastern European couple’s hotel room and was invited to have a drink. While its predecessors were set in Slovakia, it should be noted that this installment took place in Las Vegas. In its own way, on purpose or otherwise, it created a challenge for itself. Since Eli Roth’s “Hostel” and “Hostel: Part II” were set in a foreign country, it was almost easier to identify with the characters, despite their seemingly innate lack of common sense, because of their nationality. There was an underlying statement about the xenophobia found in all of us when we are in a different country and hear people speak in a foreign tongue. In this picture, the Americans became the tormenters, so the protagonists had to have something special in order for us to root for them. They did not. While each had his own distinct personality and temperament, we knew nothing about them other than their quirks and what they told one another. Hence, when the twists in the screenplay finally arrived, I felt little to no emotional impact while watching it. Although the scenes involving torture were still grizzly and bloody, one of them involving bugs, they failed to encourage a visceral response from me. Perhaps it had something to do with the style of shooting scenes and the way they were put together. Instead of having drawn-out sequences designed to increase our dread as the characters became more confused about the whereabouts of their friends, there was more than a handful of scenes interrupted by manic cutting and aerial shots of the city. Furthermore, there tended to be more people in one shot which took away some of the feelings of isolation we were supposed to experience with the characters. There was one change that I thought was somewhat interesting. Instead of simply having a room with just a victim and his tormenter, people were actually allowed to watch from behind the glass. The spectators’ chairs had buttons that they could press if they chose to bet, for example, how many arrows it took to kill a person. The concept worked because it made sense in terms of the film’s setting. If “Hostel: Part III” was able to take that level of creativity and had been more consistent with it, it would have been a passable addition to the franchise. It was hinted that Elite Hunting had more branches, one located in Asia. With all the missing people because of this sadistic group (who liked to hunt Americans) one would think that the FBI or the CIA were more informed.
★ / ★★★★
High school students Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) decided to go to an abandoned mental hospital, drink a couple of beers, and throw some chairs around like most troubled teens do. But when they stumbled upon the lower levels of the building, they discovered a naked woman (Jenny Spain) covered in plastic and tied up in chains. They presumed her to be dead until she started moving. JT had a stupid idea: keep her there and use her as their sex slave. Rickie, the more sensitive of the two, softly disagreed. He would rather call the police. Later, JT, possessed by rage, accidentally snapped the girl’s neck. She didn’t die. He killed her two more times just to test his sick hypothesis. She was incapable of dying. The concept of “Deadgirl,” written by Trent Haaga, impressed me. There was something about hormonal teenagers dealing with a really complicated moral and ethical situation that fascinated me. However, the execution lacked focus and power. There were far too many scenes of Rickie pining over Joann (Candice Accola) from afar. It was creepy, not melancholy enough. They shared one kiss when they were twelve, presumably his first kiss, and he became desperately and hopelessly in love with her. Those scenes, designed to hammer in our heads the fact that he was a romantic, didn’t lead anywhere other than to buy time until the next cruel scene when the girl in chains was raped by JT and Wheeler (Eric Podnar), a fellow schoolmate and local druggie. His intense stares caught the attention of Joann’s boyfriend (Andrew DiPalma), a possible repressed homosexual, and took great pleasure, along with baseball star Dwyer (Nolan Gerard Funk) in beating Rickie to a pulp in the school parking lot. What bothered me most was no one asked the most obvious questions. Who left the girl in that basement and why? Was there some sicko who installed cameras around the room to watch what someone would do to the girl? How long had she been there? Did she have some kind of disease? The last question was especially important. The guys were more concerned about penetrating the same hole and sharing the same “pool” than the possible ramifications of their actions. Talk about thinking with their rods and not with their brains. Rickie, the one who we were supposed to root for, was too much of a wimp to stand up against his friends. I wished there was a character who had a stronger sense of self. I certainly wouldn’t have made the same choices Rickie did. The boys treated her like an object just because she wouldn’t die. They were blind to the fact that she was able to move, bleed, and react to the most rudimentary sensations. “Deadgirl,” directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, had a daring subject matter but it failed in exploring the deeper questions about torture. What could have been great felt exploitative and cheap.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
A woman was driving in the middle of nowhere and her luck turned grim when one of the tires gave out. She called her husband, Secret Agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), to inform him of her predicament. In the middle of their phone conversation, a man named Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) knocked on her window and offered to help. She refused, told him that she already called a car service, and thanked him for his kindness. He insisted but she refused again. So he decided to break into her car and beat her until she lost consciousness. When, covered in a plastic bag, she became aware of her surroundings, he transected her limbs and threw her head into the river. Written by Hoon-jung Park and directed by Jee-woon Kim, “Akmareul boatda,” also known as “I Saw the Devil,” was an intense psychological study of a man so hell-bent on vengeance, he didn’t care if he hurt the wrong man. The lush cinematography made an interesting contrast with the characters’ dark ideations. When the searchers found the woman’s head in the river, there was something so sad and sinister about the scene. It was sad because her father and husband expected that the head wouldn’t be her’s but at the same time they somewhat knew that it was over. It was sinister because I felt like Kyung-chul was watching among the crowd of journalists and photographers. What I found unique about the story was in the way Agent Kim had the upper-hand for most of the film. It was unpredictable because it didn’t follow a typical narrative. For instance, the sadistic killer and the husband confronted each other prior to the half-way point. With each time the killer lost a physical confrontation, a part of his body was broken and he was allowed to run (or limp) away. Unbeknownst to the killer, the secret agent forced him to swallow a tracking device. The comedy kicked in when Kyung-chul was aghast that every time he was about to molest a young girl, Agent Kim foiled his plans and gave him another broken body part. Behaviorism failed to work. We wanted to see the killer suffer but there came a point where we had no choice but to ask ourselves how much was enough. Agent Kim claimed that the violence he inflicted was driven by the promise he made to his late wife. But maybe there was something inside him that relished being in control of another human being and acting like he was above the law. It worked as a meticulous case study of what torture does to the person inflicting the pain. As wild as the picture became, I admired that it had ways of pulling us back to the murdered wife. I especially liked the way the director handled the difficult phone call between Agent Kim and his wife’s family. His father-in-law actually asked him to stop. I imagine it must have been so difficult for him to come to that decision. “What you’re doing will not bring her back,” the sister said. Agent Kim’s eyes searched for an answer that could prove her statement wrong. There wasn’t any.
★★★ / ★★★★
Fifteen years ago, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) escaped an abandoned factory where she was tortured for reasons unknown. When she was placed in a facility which housed victims of child abuse, she was befriended by the kind Anna (Morjana Alaoui) despite Lucie’s much darker past and chilling visual hallucinations. Anna voluntarily took up the role of the Lucie’s crutch so she had to be the strong one. Eventually, Lucie made it her quest to hunt down the people responsible for her torment but that was simply the beginning. Although highly influenced by the “Saw” series, “Martyrs” was a stronger breed because the gore was amplified, the violence was more unflinching, and the questions it brought up about cruelty and human experimentation were actually interesting. The film had a Hitchcockian twist. Since Lucie was the survivor of the first scene, I assumed she would be the one we were supposed to follow throughout the picture. But as it went on, I started to doubt whether she was a particularly trustworthy protagonist because she didn’t have a full grasp with reality. Was the family she murdered in cold blood truly responsible for her kidnapping and torture? Then the film made an astute decision. Half-way through, it was revealed that this was Anna’s story as she had the unfortunate luck to go through what her best friend went through and then some. When she was taken in a torture chamber, there was a brilliant twenty to thirty minute interval when not a word was uttered. All we heard were sounds of a spoon scraping a metallic plate as a woman forcefully fed Anna some disgusting-looking green goop, a man landing heavy blows on Anna’s already frail body, and the sounds of scissors chewing through Anna’s hair as if it hadn’t been fed in years. It was very painful to watch but I was so curious as to why such cruelty was being done to her. When it was revealed, it felt inspired yet empty. It was inspired because I could not recall a villain that performed evil things for the same reason. It was nice that the mysterious individuals didn’t want their victims to learn a lesson or to value the life they’ve been given. At the same time, it was empty because the tormentors’ endgame was so subjective. I started asking questions like how they earned money to build such futuristic-looking facilities and machines. I had to laugh to myself a little bit. But perhaps it was a defense mechanism because I needed to process the very shocking images I just saw. Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, “Martyrs” is without a doubt not for people with a weak stomach. Meanwhile, fans of sadistic horror might be pleasantly surprised. I had no idea what I was in for. In the end, I felt a mixture of sadness, horror, and disgust. My body felt so weak, I couldn’t even make a proper fist.
Saw 3D (2010)
★ / ★★★★
In “Saw 3D,” written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the supposed final installment of the commercially (although not artistically) successful “Saw” franchise had three strands. First, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), Jigsaw’s wife, was on the run from Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) so she took refuge at a police station. In return for protection, she was willing to divulge information about the infamous murders. Meanwhile, Detective Matt Gibson (Chad Donella) was in charge of solving a new crop of grizzly murders. Unlike the ones before him, would he be lucky enough to survive? Lastly, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) claimed to have been been kidnapped by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and was successful at escaping his famous traps designed to teach a macabre lesson through painful irony. He and his entourage benefited from his fame based on untrue information. When he was kidnapped, was he capable of living up to his promise? “Saw 3D” was an excellent example why the series should simply end. I found no redeeming quality in it because every other scene was a flashback to the other six “Saw” pictures. Flashbacks are normally used to enlighten its audiences, not drive us into further confusion (and frustration). When I read reviews from fans of the franchise, they claim that they love the movies because “everything is connected.” No, it’s not. Just because a flashback makes a reference to a one minute scene from another movie, it does not necessarily mean there is a strong connection between the two. Aside from the first “Saw” movie, the rest lacked logic. Somewhere in the middle the central theme was lost. The victims were led to believe that they could get out of the traps. In reality, the possibility of escape was zero. How can we root for the character if we know she’s doomed? But I digress. “Saw 3D,” directed by Kevin Greutert, was plagued with clichés. From the cops’ arrival three seconds prior to the gruesome kill to a foggy night when something bad would eventually happen, it was one disappointing scene after another. The only comfort I found was to laugh at the ridiculous situations the characters found themselves in. I particularly enjoyed the scene of the woman, equipped with a shrill voice and in charge of public relations, who had a fish hook (along with a key necessary for her escape) stuck in her stomach and Bobby, using a string, had to pull it out of her mouth. It was bloody, flinch-inducing, grimly ironic, and fun to watch. Throughout the years, the franchise earned the label of “torture porn.” I thought it was appropriate. The acting was as bad as the ones seen in the very best pornographic films. I had to wonder where the casting directors found the actors. Maybe the actors knew the material was egregious but they just needed a big break. Who could blame them?
★ / ★★★★
I think the reason why this film gained a cult following is because of the controversy it garnered when it was released in the mid 1970’s. Depiction of homosexuality in films may have been a bigger deal back then but from today’s standards, I think this is a very weak experimental directoral feature by Derek Jarman. Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio), a Roman soldier, was exiled by the Emperor to a place where homoeroticism is abound. Since he refuses all sexual advances, especially from a superior officer named Severus (Barney James), most of the men torture and humiliate him in multiple ways to “encourage” him to surrender his Christian ideals and personal preferences. Despite its interesting premise, too bad the execution was lackadaisical. Throughout the entire picture, the audiences are asked to observe the lives of the exiled people as live like pigs. Although aesthetically the men may look beautiful (seductive music, slow motion and all) but I found it difficult to care for any of them. I really despised it when the camera would linger for literally about five minutes just to admire someone’s body. It’s just as bad as objectifying women and I did not like taking any part of it. Moreover, while I do give this film for being entirely in Latin, I couldn’t forgive its bad acting. I couldn’t see any passion in the actors eyes whenever they’re angry, passionate or sad. I also failed to see tension in their bodies whenever they’re supposed to be “fighting” one another. I literally caught myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Wow, that’s so lame.” I read a review from Netflix that “this film will not appeal to everyone, especially homophobics and conservatives, but [he or she] would recommend it to those that like art house or queer cinema.” Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy LGBT films and art house pictures once in a while but this is just one of those movies that I will (most likely) never watch again. I expected some sort of a social and cultural thesis with regards to homosexuality or the feeling of alienation where something natural is treated as abnormal but I didn’t get either. With its complete lack of depth, I’m going to say to not even bother with this supposed cult classic.
Bride Wars (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
The trailers were more fun than the actual movie. Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson star as two best friends who, due to a clerical error, were scheduled to have their weddings on the same day. Since the two had their weddings all planned out since childhood, neither lets go of the day and they try to exact revenge on each other instead of dealing with the problem at hand like sane individuals. Having said that, I eventually saw the potential in this film when the two characters started to feel guilt for their actions. I wish the picture had focused more on that instead of the silly (and really ugly) pranks. Yes, the pranks were funny on the surface but there’s an inherent sadness and shame about the whole thing because the audiences are forced to see two best friends destroy each other’s lives. The pranks did not just impact the wedding but their careers and relationship with other people as well. In my opinion, the ending should have been more grim instead of the whole saying-“Sorry”-makes-everything-all-better approach. I doubt that Hathaway would want to be remembered in this wedding-themed movie because, although I love her in pretty much anything (including this one), the script was really weak and the message was way too obvious to fully engage an intelligent audience. While watching “Bride Wars,” I wished I was watching “Rachel Getting Married” instead because at least that one featured a character that was edgy, unlikeable and complex. In “Bride Wars,” everything felt so light and sugar-y to the point where it ended up getting kind of dull. I don’t consider it completely horrible because I like the cast. (Other than the leads, I also enjoyed watching Candice Bergen, Kristen Johnston, Bryan Greenberg, Steve Howey and Chris Pratt.) But it’s not something that I’ll recommend to people other than those who are specifically looking for something harmless and forgettable.