I’m not going to lie — I was more than a bit hesitant when I heard that sibling filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska were going to follow their breakthrough film American Mary with a for-hire sequel to a terrible slasher film that no one particularly likes or remembers. How can a pair of promising talents make something so spiky and unique, only to fall into the gaping, abscessed maw of Hollywood franchising with such blunt-force velocity? I was worried that we’d be losing a new, necessary and distinctive voice in the horror field to the benumbed capitulations of Tinseltown capitalism, a world where interesting new filmmakers are de-edged and molded into play nice avatars of slick, dull, pedestrian cash grabbing boredom.
Now that I get to see See No Evil 2, I can say…why was I ever worried? Why did I doubt the Soska’s ability to deliver a slasher that was, ahem, a cut above the rest? While See No Evil 2 didn’t fully assuage my fears, the sisters managed to make a film not only superior to its predecessor (by a long mile), but is probably one of the better hack ‘em ups to come down the pike. Even if, at the same time, it doesn’t manage to be a superior Soska film.
Before we get into the meat of the matter, some history. The first See No Evil was released waaaay back in the good ol’ days of 2006, when the WWE — which produced both films — was making an aggressive attempt to develop big screen franchises for wrestling stars like John Cena and Steve Austin. These movies were pretty much awful (some may have risen to the level of mediocre) and they were all flops, pretty much foiling Vince McMahon’s dreams of moving picture glory. See No Evil was no exception to the rule, a banal, gore-soaked slasher that cast Glenn Jacobs — aka the hulking heel known as Kane — as a mountainous brute of a man, poisoned by the ultra-devout religious invective of his domineering mother, splattering and slaughtering and slicing his way through a group of obnoxious delinquent teens fixing up the decrepit old hotel he called home. Directed by Gregory Dark — better known for directing pornfilms and Britney Spears videos — it was an utterly predictable effort made only worse by the atmosphere sub-Saw grime and Dark’s tendency to hyper-actively filter the cinematography through music vid optical effects in a vain attempt at “edge” and “style” and other such buzzwords. The film came and went from theaters, and we’ve spent the next eight years neither wanting nor needing a sequel.
But a sequel we get, and the best thing we can say about See No Evil 2 is thank god we’ve got filmmakers like Jen and Sylvia Soska to make it, even if it is a gross misuse of their talents. Because talented filmmakers like these can go above and behind the bare minimum most sequel filmmakers often expend, elevating rote material into something that is watchable, even entertaining, if not exactly groundbreaking.
See No Evil 2 goes all Halloween 2 (the original, not the Zombie-fied version) on us, setting the action in the corridors of a sterile hospital building, and picking up from the events of the original, even setting it on the same night. (For those who haven’t seen it’s predecessor, have no worries; plenty of the dialogue, as well as flash cuts to the last film, does the work of filling in the blanks.) The remains of the slaughtered teens at the Blackwell Hotel, as well as the corpse of Jacob Goodnight, his eye gouged out by the last film’s heroine, arrive at the local morgue, curtailing the birthday plans of attendant Amy (Danielle Harris, herself a veteran of the Halloween series), who agrees to stay behind to help her wheelchair bound boss Holden (Michael Eklund) and her coworker Seth (Kaj-Erik Erikson), with whom she shares a mutual, unspoken crush on, with the carnage. This doesn’t fly with Amy’s friends who, lead by rambunctious party girl best friend Tamara (American Mary’s leading lady Katharine Isabelle, having great, hammy fun in a role that allows her to let loose and whoop it up), decide to bring the party to the morgue, cracking open drinks while Seth and Amy crack open bodies.
It doesn’t take a rocket genius to see where this goes. Drinks are drunk. Sex is had — namely by Tamara, who has a barely concealed sick-shit fetish, and her boyfriend Carter (Lee Majdoub), which is preceded, in the most Soskian scene, by Tamara climbing on and writhing playfully over the body of Goodnight. The killer isn’t really dead, and the debauchery wakes him from his slumber, like a psychotic Sleeping Beauty, with the rest of the film given over to run run kill kill stab stab.
The script, by newcomers Nathan Brookes and Bobby Lee Darby, is complete tosh and even the Soskas can’t overcome the utter predictability of it, even with a final act semi-twist that reverses one of the long-held gender dynamics of the genre. What the ladies can do is it at least make the film with utmost care, raising the quality of everything but the hackneyed story. The characters are more likable and sympathetic then is the norm, and the directors have great empathy for them, a rarity in a subgenre that treats the people residing in it as lambs to the slaughter. (Granted, there’s only so much empathy that can be wrung from characters design to be butcher’s meat.) The film is stylishly shot, with pleasingly shadowy cinematography by Mahlon Tod Williams, the sisters eschewing ostentatious hyperventilating for a straightforward classicism that allows for suspense to build. The acting is better than normal for this kind of thing, with Isabelle, the Soska’s go-to weapon, earning MVP honors for turning Tamara from a potential annoying caricature to one of the most entertaining party girl archetypes we’ve seen in a slasher in a long time.
Gorehounds are likely to be disappointed by the relatively low blood count here compared to the original, and the director’s seem reluctant to give us too many memorable kills (though they offer a couple), but at least it’s made for in an honest attempt to create an atmosphere tenable to crafting suspense. That said, this is still clearly a for-hire project that only allow Jen and Sylvia’s individualized voice to poke through sporadically. If anything, this is proof that the ladies can deliver a commercially friendly product that doesn’t entirely force the Soskas to compromise their sensibilities. For what it is — a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities in their career — See No Evil 2 is fine, building on and improving the blueprint of a wobbly and lackluster original. But here’s to hoping that, now that they’ve established they can play in the studio sandbox, the Twisted Twins can get back to making movies in their own genuine and idiosyncratic voice.
3 out of 5 stars