I don’t have any particularly strong memories of when See No Evil came out. I vaguely recall hearing about it, seeing posters and trailers, thinking “meh,” and not feeling especially driven to go see it; and when I eventually happened to catch it on TV a few years later, my overall reaction was similarly indifferent. Gregory Dark’s 2006 effort certainly wasn’t the worst slasher movie I’d ever seen; indeed, in some respects it was encouraging to see Hollywood attempt to create a new slasher icon in an era dominated by torture movies, and WWE’s Glen ‘Kane’ Jacobs certainly seemed a good fit for the job. And yet, there was simply no getting around how passé it all was. Take the nuts and bolts of Jason Voorhees, transfer to an inner city setting, throw a bit of Rob Zombie grime on top, and whoomp, there it is: Jacob Goodnight and See No Evil.
I doubt many of us imagined that eight years later we’d be seeing a sequel – much less that it would be, for some, one of the most anticipated horror movies of the year. Of course, there can be little question that this anticipation has less to do with the return of Kane as Jacob Goodnight than it is to do with the sequel’s directors. It’s been two years since American Mary set the horror festival circuit ablaze with debate, sending a great many head over heels in love, and many more into a foaming rage – and, problematically, much of this reaction had less to do with the film itself than it did its makers. No doubt about it, Jen and Sylvia Soska are unique, polarizing figures in horror fandom today, and it seems no assessment of their work can occur without an intentional or unintentional segueway into commentary on their larger-than-life public persona. To express an opinion on their work is, it seems, to pick a side of the playground; with the Soskas, or against them.
Me – I try my damnedest to be a bit more grown-up than that. While I can understand some (I stress some*) of the complaints of those in the anti-Soska camp, in my limited encounters with the twins I’ve found no reason whatsoever to hold them in disdain, as they’ve never been anything but pleasant to deal with. And you know what, I daresay modern horror might actually benefit from some larger than life personalities giving it a boost, to say nothing of the quite rightly oft-argued need for greater female representation behind the camera.
Still, when I first read on Twitter that the Soska Sisters were directing See No Evil 2, I honestly thought someone was taking the piss. That the film was being made at all seemed so unlikely; that they would be the ones to make it, even more so. Eventually I warmed to the idea a bit, realising it could go either way. Slashers, almost by definition, thrive on repetition of a standard formula, so the fact that the first film was such old hat needn’t have been in any way a hindrance. What mattered was the panache with which the sequel was delivered; the aesthetics, the rhythm, the timing, the ingenuity of the kills. All this seemed within reach.
As such, it does rather pain me to report that, when all is said and done, See No Evil 2 is little more than yet another mediocre sequel to yet another mediocre slasher movie. Those “been-there, done-that” feelings which the original inspired are back in spades, and flashes of American Mary’s intelligence and eccentricity are few and far between. Sure, this may in part be down to the fact that the directors are working for the first time with a script they didn’t write themselves; plus the pressures and constraints of working for a big company like WWE must surely have a role to play. But ultimately, it was down to the Soskas to lift See No Evil 2 above the usual quagmire of direct-to-DVD horror, and I’m afraid they simply haven’t managed this.
The plot and characters are not the issue. Yes, they’re largely two-dimensional stereotypes in an over-familiar scenario – bunch of young(-ish) pretty people stuck in an enclosed area with a hulking homicidal maniac whose only urge is to kill each and every one of them – but again, slashers always follow a basic formula; it’s what you do with that formula that matters. Setting the action within a city morgue was, in itself, a promising move, offering up the chance for plenty of the morbid humour which the Soskas delivered in their earlier work. The preview clip released online at the end of August certainly hinted that this was the way they were going, and it’s no surprise that particular scene was chosen to pre-sell the movie, as it’s a clear highlight. The problem is, the scene may have been assumed to hint at how dark, weird and kinky things might get – but in truth, it’s about as dark, weird and kinky as See No Evil 2 ever does get.
Credit where it’s due, though: the Soskas understand better than anyone the strengths of Katharine Isabelle, and the actress herself clearly knows how to make the best of less-than inspiring material. It’s almost as if her Freddy Vs Jason character survived, and didn’t learn a single life lesson in the past eleven years; yes, she’s back to playing the goofy hard-drinking wild child sexpot, and it’s a role which might easily have wound up profoundly annoying in the wrong hands. As it is, Isabelle gives by far the most enjoyable performance in the whole movie, responsible for the few real laughs, and the fact that it’s such a complete 180-degree turn from Mary Mason is part of what makes it fun.
It’s not such good news for the rest of the cast, however. Danielle Harris can do this Final Girl schtick in her sleep, and the role doesn’t stretch her as an actress in any way, shape or form. Kaj-Erik Eriksen is likeable enough as the non-threatening would-be boyfriend, and Michael Eklund is kinda fun in his fairly small part, but Chelan Simmons is a bit tedious as the second sexpot friend (what, one wasn’t enough?) and Greyston Holt is pretty dull as Harris’ brother (plus it’s hard to see a family resemblance when he’s about three times her size. Seriously, it’s like being told Thor and Tinkerbell are siblings). The one I feel worst for, though, is Glen Jacobs himself. There are some very ill-advised attempts made to humanise Goodnight, with a few emotional scenes, an over-abundance of flashbacks to the first film, and even a few lines of dialogue. Jacobs is clearly making every effort, but none of it works, and none of it feels necessary.
Perhaps See No Evil 2’s greatest crime of all, though, is how damn tame it all is. As you might guess from the BBFC’s decision to grant it a 15 certificate, the gore is sparse and mild, and the kills are for the most part nothing we haven’t seen before (with one notable exception which I’m not about to spoil). With so comparatively small a cast, the movie really needs to make each kill count, but the bulk of them just feel like wasted opportunities. The constraints of space also take their toll; the Soskas quickly run out of ways to make the blank square corridors of the morgue look interesting, and by the final act the sight of anxious souls shuffling down those same hallways over and over gets repetitive in the extreme.
I don’t doubt for a moment that the Soskas are sincere in their stated desire to elevate Jacob Goodnight to the level of the great horror icons, but based on this film I certainly can’t see it happening; and though the inevitably anti-climactic finale leaves things gaping wide open for a third film, I can’t pretend that’s a sequel I have any interest in seeing. Again, it gives me no satisfaction to say this, but See No Evil 2 is just a total let-down on every level. Slasher fans won’t find it adds anything to the canon, and Soska Sisters fans will be left wondering what happened to all that wit, spark and personality which made American Mary stand apart.
(* On the subject of one of the complaints I do concur with – yes, the Soskas give themselves another cameo in See No Evil 2, but no, it isn’t anywhere near as overlong and narcissistic as their scene in American Mary.)
See No Evil 2 is released to Region 2 DVD on 20th October, from Lionsgate.