I was stopped in my tracks and turned into an expletive-spewing ball of anger earlier this week by the sight of this advert for the film Hostel II. Unpleasant to say the least. I don’t know whether the same image is being used in the UK, but I assume it wouldn’t get past the censors – not because it is so blatently misogynistic, of course, but because the decapitated woman’s nipples are on view. In Santiago, however, it’s all over the Metro. You simply can’t avoid it. I’ve had to see it at least twice a day for the past week, if not more, and I’m fuming.
This poster is supposed to make me want to go and see the film Hostel II. This image of a naked woman carrying her mutilated head under her arm should apparently have me rushing to the nearest cinema as soon as the film comes out, waving my wallet in the air and demanding, well, what is it I’m being promised here? To me this poster says abuse, it says torture, it says violence against women. What’s more, it says abuse, torture, violence against women is sexy. It says abuse, torture, violence against women is entertaining. The way the woman’s body is presented – in monochrome, with admittedly good use of lighting – suggests that abuse, torture and violence against women have artistic merit. The fact that this poster is plastered across a capital city’s public transport system suggests that I should have no problem seeing images of abused women, that it is perfectly normal for such an image to be used to sell a product, and that I should in fact be interested in, if not excited by, is it going too far to say aroused by this image?
I stood next to this advert for ten minutes on Friday to try and gage people’s response to it. While many people stared, some laughed, others looked puzzled, I can’t say I saw anyone react in the same way I did. And I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, this is apparently what people want to see : sexy naked women being tortured. It is nothing short of disgusting that this kind of film – the so-called “torture porn” – is so popular (think the Saw series, think Captivity, think Grindhouse). So what if the genre doesn’t feature actual images of torture : the audience is still getting their kicks out of watching violent abuse, and in the case of Hostel II this abuse would appear to be directed at women. We live in a world where, according to Amnesty International, violence against women is the greatest human rights scandal of our times. The kind of abuse and violence featured in these films is an everyday reality for millions of women all over the globe. Does director Eli Roth think we should get our kicks out of their suffering too? I’d like to think he doesn’t, but then why make the naked, decapitated body of a woman the selling point of his film? Why feature the face that so clearly speaks of abuse?
Here’s the bit where I preempt the apologists. Yes, you could say we also live in a world where people are murdered every single day yet we still enjoy watching and reading thrillers, murder mysteries, stories of serial killers. Some would simply argue that this is equally disgusting, however, from where I’m sitting, the difference is that the main attraction of Hostal II, if we are to assume that the promo posters reveal the main attraction, and I think it’s fair to assume they do, is the torture itself. It’s not about whodunnit, it’s not about the psychology of the killer, it’s simply about settling down to watch women being tortured and killed. And enjoying it. The greatest human rights abuse of our times reduced to 93 minutes of pure entertainment.