June 8th is only a week away, but for Lionsgate and Eli Roth, it must feel like an eternity. That a bootleg of Hostel: Part II has leaked to the internet isn’t unprecedented; every year, a few studios suffer the headache of an advance copy of a major release making the rounds weeks in advance. The trouble with the Hostel: Part II boot – i.e. according to those who’ve seen it – is that, despite a watermark or time code at the bottom of the screen, it’s of unusually high quality.
I’ve never subscribed to the idea that a pirated version of an upcoming movie could do much damage to its opening weekend; the percentage of would-be ticket-buyers who’d settle for a grainy image on their fifteen-inch laptop monitor in lieu of a big screen presentation with superior sound is too small to be worth fretting over. But Lionsgate has two problems with the Hostel bootleg: 1) the "studio-grade" picture quality, and 2) the fact that their target audience might get everything they need out of the movie with this still-not-ideal, but perhaps good-enough incarnation.
Though I found the first Hostel a more thoughtful movie than Saw (and believe Roth is rapidly maturing as a filmmaker), I doubt most teenagers and twentysomethings give a shit about Eli’s burgeoning mastery of tone and theme. They’re forking over $10 strictly for the torture. They want to see eyeballs being plucked, flesh being rent and digits/extremities/heads being severed. Do they care about the experience of taking this repugnant spectacle in with a squealing audience? Probably not. They’re already burning their free time watching gruesome skateboarding mishaps (or much worse) on YouTube. The best thing about watching Hostel: Part II at home is that they can zip past the boring character stuff to get to the gore (though they might pause to check out the T&A and implied-by-the-trailer lesbian content).
This bootleg is apparently all over the internet, so containment is useless; what Lionsgate has to worry about now is their audience’s willingness to settle for an uncommonly clean boot. Though you’ll never get anyone at the studios to admit it on the record, I guarantee you they’ll be watching Hostel: Part II‘s opening weekend grosses very carefully, especially since it’s got viable competition in Ocean’s Thirteen and Knocked Up (which will do its share of repeat business). I haven’t looked at the tracking recently, but I’m sure Lionsgate is hoping for a $20 million-plus bow at least. Will their audience still be there in a week?
Unlike the bitter, Sony-indentured Nikki Finke, I actually feel bad for Eli; sure, he plays up the shlockmeister persona for his younger, less discriminating fans, but he’s got more on his mind than torture porn (in fact, he hates that terminology almost as much as Devin hates otaku). He’s a true film geek and a genuinely funny guy (as the fake trailer for Thanksgiving made abundantly clear). And he also went to great lengths to keep the script from hitting the internet so as not to spoil whatever surprises this sequel has for in store for fans of the first. But even if I hated the guy, I’d still be alarmed by this leak; anything that endangers theatrical exhibition is a bad thing. While we’ve a long way to go before this is a big problem, I truly believe this is the first time a film’s opening weekend could be impacted by a bootleg. And that’s a lousy precedent to be setting.