See No Evil (2006)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-10-18 03:11

Written by: Dan Madigan
Directed by: Gregory Dark
Starring: Glenn Jacobs, Christina Vidal, and Michael J. Pagan

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

"Look into their eyes, can't you see the sin?"

Ever since tasting a bit of it during the Rock & Wrestling era, Vince McMahon has craved crossover success, almost to a pathological degree. Whether this is born out of a need for validation given the ill-repute of the business he’s constantly shied away from and rebranded (his insistence on calling it “sports entertainment” rather than “wrestling” reeks of a kid chiding his mom that he’s reading graphic novels, not comic books) is up for debate, but there’s no doubt McMahon has always seen the WWE as a conglomerate that might allow him to move beyond the mat. It’s no surprise that he’d start his own film studio, and it’s even less surprising that its output would mostly genre stuff. Among its first efforts was See No Evil, a slasher that would have been more at home during the WWE’s 80s heyday, albeit one with a grungy, Saw-inspired aesthetic that manages to make it feel like more of the same, even if slashers were about as passé as a wristlock by 2006.

And when I say it would have been “right at home” in the 80s, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a compliment because it would have been particularly in the company with the hordes of forgettable slashers from the era, the sort that you might have rented once before consigning it to the recesses of your brain. The setup is either gloriously simple or woefully undercooked depending on your disposition: a group of co-ed delinquents has been rounded up to help clean up an old hotel, which has fallen in a state of disrepair since its owner’s death several years ago. Unbeknownst to them and the supervising police officers, a murderous psychopath (Glen Jacobs, aka WWE’s Kane) has taken up residence and doesn’t take kindly to intrusions.

Eventually, the film reveals the killer’s motivation and the source of his psychosis (spoiler: it’s mommy issues), but, for the most part, See No Evil adheres ruthlessly to the slasher template, with only some slight modifications tossed in to satisfy the ubiquitous “torture porn” movement, which was in full swing by this point. Its influence is seen not only in the on-screen violence (there’s a bit where a helplessly dangling victim is mauled to death by dogs) but also in the film’s aesthetic, which is soaked in grimy, grungy hues and punctuated hyperkinetic editing flourishes meant to enliven a terminally dull, flat palette. See No Evil is ugly in the worst way possible, and it actually doesn’t mirror its spirit: it might be about a maniac that plucks his victims’ eyes out, but it’s dopey as hell, though I’m not sure if anyone involved is really in on it.

Executive producer McMahon himself must have been. An infamous anecdote speaks of his desire to outfit the killer (dubbed in the credits as Jacob Goodnight, a name that sadly goes unspoken during the film) with a giant penis, presumably for the same reason he had septuagenarian Mae Young give birth to plastic hand or faked his own death on live TV: because fuck you, he’s Vince McMahon. Somehow, the filmmakers resisted, and it’s almost a shame because that’s exactly the sort of craziness See No Evil needs; at times, it has some cockeyed stuff scattered in its margins (such as an outrageously crass mid-credits stinger and a bit involving a cell phone), but, for the most part, its only deviation from the script is its insistence on not giving a damn about who lives or dies. Just about everyone is an insufferable asshole here, save for a hero cop and a quiet, reserved girl; in most slashers, these two would inevitably represent the plucky survivors. Here? Forget about it.

Instead, See No Evil settles on one of the mouthier, contentious girls and her abusive shithead of a boyfriend (this is the worst-scouted and most poorly-planned round of community service ever, obviously). These two (plus the girl’s tagalong friend) are not very pleasant company, though one can really call them that since they spend most of their time darting around various corridors and poking around the hotel in search of their missing friend (Goodnight has taken her captive because he’s fascinated by her religious tattoos). The rest of the characters similarly scurry about the place, only to meet the business end of Goodnight’s chain-hooks before being subjected to his fetish for severed eyes. Given how barren the slasher landscape has been, it’s especially disappointing that See No Evil even botches the genre’s calling card: most of the death sequences are forgettable, and its villain yet another bland mama’s boy that’s been twisted into an agent of righteous morality.

The fact that he’s Kane is sort of incidental—really, he’s no better or worse than anyone surrounding him, plus his character is sent off with wicked fanfare. At the very least, See No Evil can’t be accused of going out with a whimper, as it climaxes in a splatter bang that leaves you wondering why the rest of the film couldn’t be as inspired. With a sequel on the way, one can only hope it will deliver on the promise of its predecessor’s rare high points; having the Twisted Twins attached immediately makes it interesting, and the very notion of somehow making a sequel in light of this film’s ending is bonkers in its own right. It’s sort of ironic that a slasher that insists on climaxing with a very dead end (instead of with the hint that its killer will return) will be sequelized so many years later. Maybe McMahon is applying his “anything can happen” mantra to WWE Films—well, so long as it doesn’t involve three-foot-long penises, I guess. Rent it!

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