The Films of Eli Roth
Cabin Fever (October 6/16)
Eli Roth's debut, Cabin Fever follows five friends (Rider Strong's Paul, Jordan Ladd's Karen, James DeBello's Bert, Cerina Vincent's Marcy, and Joey Kern's Jeff) as they arrive at a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of relaxing and partying - with the trip taking a bloody turn after a flesh-eating virus begins working its way through the characters. There's almost excessively little within Cabin Fever that won't seem all-too-familiar to horror fans, as scripters Randy Pearlstein and Roth have infused the narrative with just about every convention and cliche of the genre imaginable - and yet it's clear that the movie, in its early stages, fares much better than one might've anticipated. Roth does an effective job of initially luring the viewer into the well-worn proceedings, with the solid visuals and affable performances going a long way towards perpetuating the film's watchable vibe. It's only as the aforementioned virus becomes more and more prominent that Cabin Fever begins to peter out, as the movie's second half is rife with fairly tedious sequences involving the characters' growing mistrust of one another. Roth's efforts at filling screentime pave the way for too many instances of palpable filler, including, especially, an ongoing subplot concerning the exploits of an inexplicably goofy police officer named Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews). The copious gore that ultimately fills the movie's third act isn't enough to compensate for a progressively tiresome atmosphere, and it's clear, too, that the somewhat anticlimactic finale ensures that Cabin Fever ends on a woefully forgettable note.
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Hostel Part II (June 8/07)
If Cabin Fever and Hostel hinted at Eli Roth's potential, Hostel Part II surely marks a substantial leap forward in terms of his directorial abilities. Though this sequel is ultimately as uneven as its predecessor, there's just no denying that Roth's prowess behind the camera plays a significant role in the movie's success (however mild it may be). The expectedly familiar storyline - which, this time around, follows three girls as they fall victim to the horrific hostel of the original - has been augmented with a behind-the-scenes look at the actual running of the torture-for-hire business, and Roth also offers up a pair of clients (played by Richard Burgi and Roger Bart) who are preparing to use the service for the first time. With its relatively deliberate pace and uneventful opening hour, Hostel Part II suffers from precisely the same sort of problems as the original (ie it simply takes far too long for things to get going). Roth's efforts at character development generally fall flat, as the various actors are essentially trapped within the confines of easy-to-recognize stereotypes (ie the nerdy girl, the slutty girl, etc). Having said that, the performances are quite impressive (lead Lauren German is particularly effective) and Roth does a nice job of infusing the film with increasingly creative kill sequences - with the inclusion of a hilariously over-the-top moment towards the conclusion essentially justifying Hostel Part II's entire existence.
The Green Inferno
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Knock Knock (October 8/16)
Based on a forgotten '70s film, Knock Knock follows family man Evan (Keanu Reeves) as he engages in extramarital sex with two sultry, promiscuous strangers (Lorenza Izzo's Genesis and Ana de Armas's Bell) and is, the day after, psychologically and physically tortured by the deranged girls. It's a fairly stupid premise that's employed to progressively unwatchable effect by filmmaker Eli Roth, as the director, along with coscreenwriters Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo, proves utterly unable to elevate the narrative above its persistently one-note sensibilities - with the movie, by and large, coming off as a five minute short that's been clumsily, brutally expanded to feature length. It's fairly disappointing, too, given that Knock Knock does open with a certain degree of potential, with Reeves' typically affable turn as the sympathetic protagonist certainly playing an integral role in initially capturing the viewer's interest. The movie begins its steady turn towards total irrelevance once Izzo and de Armas' one-dimensional characters show up, however, as the bulk of Knock Knock's interminable running time is devoted to the pair's increasingly destructive antics - with the aggressively repetitive vibe exacerbated by Roth's heavy-handed approach to the film's "message." The end result is a monumentally epic failure from a seriously hit-and-miss filmmaker, and it's ultimately impossible not to wonder what drew Reeves to such misguided, puerile material.
Death Wish (March 2/18)
Eli Roth's best movie since Hostel Part II, Death Wish follows Bruce Willis' Paul Kersey as he embarks on a campaign of uncompromising vengeance after his wife (Elizabeth Shue's Lucy) and daughter (Camila Morrone's Jordan) are attacked and left for dead - with Paul's revenge-fueled exploits eventually garnering the interest of two overworked detectives (Dean Norris' Kevin Raines and Kimberly Elise's Leonore Jackson). The degree to which Death Wish improves as it progresses is nothing short of staggering, as the movie, for much of its opening hour, comes off as a take-it-or-leave-it endeavor bogged down by an overly deliberate pace and a typically erratic performance by Willis - with, in terms of the latter, the actor delivering an occasionally stirring yet mostly ambivalent turn that prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly sympathizing with and rooting for his character. Such concerns become moot once the picture passes a certain point, however, as Death Wish transforms into just the sort of unapologetically ruthless and violent thriller that rarely gets made nowadays (ie its very existence is a delightful novelty) - with the movie's second half boasting a series of gleefully over-the-top instances of R-rated mayhem (including an awesomely cringeworthy torture sequence involving a scalpel and battery acid). And although the momentum remains erratic (at best) all the way to the (admittedly memorable) conclusion, Death Wish is ultimately a fairly refreshing return to the sort of brutal fare that was once commonplace within multiplexes.