Full disclosure; my interest in this film comes solely from the directing talent of Jen & Sylvia Soska, the ‘Twisted Twins’ who were behind one of last year’s finest surprises, American Mary. That movie – a chilly surgical horror with a healthy streak of black humour – was enough to put them on the map for any fan of the macabre. Suddenly whatever they did next was of interest.
I had to play catch-up when I heard their next feature would be the belated sequel to WWE-produced 2006 horror See No Evil, and tracked down said feature a few months ago. To put it mildly, I was not impressed with what I saw. In truth I found it to be one of the worst horror films I’ve seen in a long, long while. Banal, cliché-ridden, lacking inspiration in almost every conceivable way, it made the prospect of a Soskas-helmed sequel even more curious. The leap in quality from their debut Dead Hooker In A Trunk to American Mary was remarkable. Could they continue this encouraging ascendancy and raise this horror sequel above its moribund, forgotten beginnings?
For those of you unfamiliar with See No Evil, it saw a bunch of half-sketched delinquents face off against brutal psychopath Jacob Goodnight (Glenn ‘Kane’ Jacobs) while performing community service at a rundown hotel. As joyless as a Saw sequel, it was a grimy, drab exercise in the laziest tropes of 00’s horror. The idea that, eight years on, this sequel even has an audience is, frankly, a little surprising. But here it is. So how have the Soskas fared?
Well, first of all it’s a relief to report that, from the off, this is a superior movie. With a handy injection of flashbacks (which contrast the visual styles of the two), the history of See No Evil is dispensed with in about 10 seconds, rendering the need to familiarise yourself rather moot. And as Goodnight himself is the only returning character, the Soskas’ follow-up is able to act as its own beast.
Rather like Halloween II, we pick up the same night and relocate to the local hospital. It’s the graveyard shift at the morgue, where attendant Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) is crushing on young ingenue Amy (Danielle Harris). It’s her birthday, but when the horrors that happened at the Blackwell Hotel busy up her evening, Amy’s friends decide to bring the party to her. Among their numbers are her hulking, protective brother Will (Greyston Holt) and tipsy best friend Tamara (scream queen and prior Soskas cohort Katharine Isabelle, relishing a spirited if annoying supporting role).
Setting all of this up takes some time, and while some of the dialogue lands as awkwardly as the contrived set-up, it’s all presented with a far more approachable, engaging spirit than the first film afforded us. The relationship melodramas here feel like lip-service, but they do anchor us with characters. Harris’ Amy is easy to warm to, while Eriksen capably carries off the puppy-dog look as Seth tries to work out how to ask her out.
It helps that the Soskas are evidently building on the style they honed with American Mary. The hospital setting helps recall that movie fondly, and once again there’s a crisp elegance to the way they present things, reminiscent at times of Cronenberg’s iciness. The shot selection is frequently a cut above your average straight-to-video sequel, speaking of a level of care and attention that’s ordinarily absent from such cash-ins.
Of course, inevitably, Goodnight proves to be far less dead than anyone thought, and his resurrection spawns one of the film’s early delights; a fun spin on peek-a-boo with matches in the dark. Once the havoc begins, however, See No Evil 2 encounters its greatest hurdle, which is simply that it’s monster-in-chief is a rather generic beastie – the kind you’d mow down in a creepy video game without a moment’s hesitation. The script, a two-hander from Nathan Brooks and Bobby Lee Darby, doggedly plays safe with the tired tropes of the slasher, and the lamentable spirit of all those Saw sequels rears its head again with Goodnight’s clanging mutilations. As such See No Evil 2 quickly becomes a functional and largely unoriginal creepshow.
It deposits the film as a step down for the Soskas after the crackle of American Mary (clearly a labor of love), but it’s worth noting that this doesn’t wholly make See No Evil 2 a failure. It is better than the first film. Sure, it’s a generic story, but the sisters have dressed it up rather well, siphoning B-movie standards through their own wicked gaze. At it’s best it elevates the ordinary here, making this one of the better recent examples of this kind of product. It all looks beautiful too, and if most of the young leads struggle to overcome the limitations of their paper-thin characters, then that in itself, one could argue, is appropriately consistent.
Some genuine surprises would have been nice, especially as the Soskas feel like they have the potential for great innovations in horror, yet while we have to settle (this time) for exactly what you’d expect, it is at least presented as well as it probably could’ve been.
They’re still names to watch. But if they’re not tied to any potential See No Evil 3, then neither am I.