Written by: Nathan Brookes, Bobby Lee Darby
Directed by: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring: Glenn Jacobs, Danielle Harris, and Katharine Isabelle
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
You will pay for your sins.
I have to admit that the Twisted Twins’ decision to helm See No Evil 2 initially (and reflexively) felt like a disappointment. While their first two films may be a bit flawed, both are unquestionably the work of kooky outsiders, so the idea of them being saddled with a sequel to a film I didn’t enjoy from a studio with a spotty track record (at best) wasn’t the most exciting proposition (yes, I thought the directors of Dead Hooker in a Trunk might be too good for a slasher sequel). Clearly, this duo didn’t share the same outlook, and, more importantly, didn’t treat See No Evil 2 as grunt work—it might adhere to a template and be the Soskas’ most accessible work to date, but it’s skillfully done all the same. I don’t know if anyone ever saw this sequel coming, much less one delivered with the sort of skill and thoughtfulness on display here.
If the original See No Evil essentially followed the lead of every standard-issue slasher movie imaginable, it follows, then, that its sequel would take a page out of the Halloween II playbook: set just hours after Jacob Goodnight’s (Kane) blood-soaked rampage in the first film, this follow-up traces the killer’s cadaver to the local morgue,where Amy (Danielle Harris) and Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) are set to pull a graveyard shift (in every sense of the term). The unexpected workload is especially a bummer for Amy, who had planned to attend a birthday bash being put on by her friends. With that option off the table, Amy’s boss (Michael Eklund) arranges for her friends to bring the party to her, which essentially brings the lambs to Goodnight’s next slaughter once the psycho springs to life from his slab.
It would be a backhanded compliment to declare See No Evil 2 to be an improvement over its predecessor; after all, the most interesting thing about that film was executive producer Vince McMahon’s desire to outfit Goodnight with an abnormally huge penis. McMahon didn’t get his wish this time around either, but he does have a film he should be more proud of (or not—his tastes seem to rarely align with what most would consider decent). For starters, See No Evil 2 doesn’t look like Saw regurgitated: gone is the murky, ultra-grungy, hyper-kinetic style of the first, here replaced by the more refined, glossy style seen in the Soskas’ American Mary. With its sleek photography and restrained camera movement, the film even visually echoes the famous slasher sequel that inspired its setting: before indulging in mayhem, the Soskas establish the bleak, labyrinthine morgue that’s soon to be stained with the intestines of Amy’s friends.
Their willingness to take their time to establish both setting and decent characters represents the film’s most crucial improvement. The original film is absolutely committed to exhausting its audience with a group of unrepentant assholes absolutely deserving of having their guts ripped out by a chain-wielding maniac; it may make for an off-kilter, unpredictable slasher in this sense (good luck picking out the Final Girl when no one really seems to fit the mold), but it’s also an entirely grating experience with few redeeming values. Even watching Kane plow through them like a human scythe cutting down a rotten crop is pretty joyless (even when the movie ends with a dog pissing right on the his corpse—you want to laugh, but I dunno). In contrast, the sequel’s group is remarkably okay. Don’t get me wrong: they all adhere to the expected clichés (the Nice Guy, the overprotective brother, the promiscuous friend(s), the plucky survivor girl), but they’re not bad company for this genre, and the Soskas invest just enough time in each of them.
The most indelible is wild-child Tamara, played by American Mary cohort Katharine Isabelle. Obsessed with serial killers and carrying a fetish for dead bodies, she makes a beeline for Goodnight’s not-so-final resting place, where she’s just as quick to dry-hump his corpse, a decision that ends rather badly, of course. Isabelle is a delight in a role that bears the Soskas’ signature cockeyed blend of morbid humor and the macabre. In fact, she’s the spark that really ignites See No Evil 2, which, save for a few early flourishes (such as the twins’ cameo as a couple of cadavers—I think Hitchcock would approve), the sequel threatens to be dialed back a little bit too much. In Isabelle, it finds the right amount of camp and liveliness to keep it from falling into a toxic pit of self-seriousness: See No Evil 2 is just fun enough without resorting to complete irreverence.
Instead, it’s simply a very solid slasher. It’s tempting to assume that this genre’s ubiquity still makes it tired, but it’s actually kind of refreshing to see it stripped back down to its bones and treated rather studiously, even if it does come at the expense of rendering its otherwise distinguished directors into something of anonymous workhands. By the time it degenerates into formulaic slash-and-stalk, there’s precious time for embellishments, save for some stylistic dispatches (a gloriously practical throat slash is a standout) and a somewhat unpredictable ending. It, of course, relies on some absurd suspension of disbelief (it seems like Goodnight is everywhere—teleporting Jason from Friday the 13th VIII would be impressed) and is generally ridiculous, but one wishes the Soskas could have found a little bit of space to carve out their blood-soaked signature more forcefully.
However, I’ll settle for these two pulling off something of a minor miracle. Before the Soskas’ involvement, See No Evil 2 was not a film I could have ever imagined being intrigued by, much less quite satisfied by. It’s a film that doesn’t seek to reinvent the machete, but it does deliver on the promise of the original: there’s a potential for a fun franchise here, as Kane makes for a naturally creepy fit for a slasher villain, at least so long as he’s shepherded to the screen by capable hands. If he is to return (and genre fans won’t be surprised to learn that this leaves the door split wide open for that possibility), here’s hoping WWE Films can hook more promising filmmakers (between this and No One Lives, it would at least seem as though they’ve mastered the slasher game). Meanwhile, the Soskas have survived their encounter with him rather unscathed—they’ve lived to tell not only this tale, but hopefully many more twisted ones in the future. Buy it!
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