It can be remarkably easy to become disillusioned with the things you love. As the films of 2014 come and go, I am underwhelmed. I hear ecstatic ravings for films that have left me cold. Even my beloved horror genre has served up disappointment after disappointment. As I look to some of my most trusted critics and essayists, I see their lists of the best scares 2014 had to offer. I have seen many of those same films, and I have found the vast majority to be long, dreary slogs through misery, dread and unlikable characters. And I have to wonder, is it me?
I am not saying everyone needs to fall in line and offer up a certain type of film, but that does seem to be what has happened anyway. Pessimism and cynicism have taken the place of fear and suspense. And “fun” has become a dirty word. People look down on exploitation films like the SHARKNADO series. And it’s true, they’re hardly multilayered classics. But they have at least provided more entertainment value than the most acclaimed horror films of late.
Into the fray steps SEE NO EVIL 2, a shameless return to slasher films of old, but with a few interesting twists. But before we get into that, we need to talk about the original SEE NO EVIL. And for that, I am truly sorry.
2006’s SEE NO EVIL involved a group of delinquents from juvenile detention, fulfilling part of their sentence by cleaning up a dilapidated hotel. While they’re screwing around, they awaken Jacob Goodnight (Kane), the hulking psychopath who lives there. Goodnight’s mother was a religious fanatic who kept him locked in a wire cage and told him that any sin needed to be snuffed out by a righteous “hand of God.” And according to Mother Goodnight, sin was in everyone. Goodnight murdered virtually everyone in the hotel, in typically gory fashion, before being dispatched.
SEE NO EVIL didn’t work. It could have, but it didn’t. The failure of the film can be traced to the very thing that initially intrigued me about the project. The film was directed by Gregory Dark, who had gained fame and fortune by directing award-winning music videos for Britney Spears among others. But these weren’t the credits that intrigued me. In the 1980s, Dark was known as Dark Bros. Productions, a banner under which he directed some bizarre, surreal and surprisingly funny adult films. In the 1990s, he transitioned into the exploitation market, mainly directing softcore thrillers under the name Gregory Hippolyte. Naturally, Lionsgate and WWE Productions relied on his music video credits in advertising materials, but the fact was that Dark was snatching up awards left and right before he ever got Spears in her schoolgirl outfit. Plus, it would have been downright hilarious to see movie posters at the local mall cinema emblazoned with the line, “From the director of NEW WAVE HOOKERS and LET ME TELL YA ‘BOUT WHITE CHICKS.”
But looking at the behind the scenes features on the Blu-ray or DVD, it becomes clear that Dark orchestrated the artistic downfall of SEE NO EVIL. Instead of trying to present a quality horror film and thus letting the audience discover and praise it in their own fashion, he treated the job like market research. He can be heard commenting on how working in music videos, he realizes the MTV audience he catered to was the same audience that watches horror (Wrong, the audience includes but is not limited to this demographic.). Hence, he openly admits to using quick cutting, adding digital effects and shaking the camera in order to make the film feel more like one of his music videos.
This is precisely why SEE NO EVIL is such a failure. He spent so much time using the tricks of one medium and yet he didn’t seem to understand that they did not fit in a spooky slasher flick. SEE NO EVIL may have a few interesting kills, but it has no scares, no suspense, no characters to rally behind and no reason to care what’s happening.
The only saving grace from the original SEE NO EVIL is Kane as Jacob Goodnight. Wrestlers aren’t actors by trade, but they are performers, accustomed to inhabiting a persona in the ring. Kane not only imbues Goodnight with menace but also quite a bit of pathos. You know Jacob will never be a nice guy or even a good one. But as he struggles with an unholy mission that has been thrust upon him, the years of abuse are etched upon his scarred face. It’s a stunningly memorable horror villain.
Ordinarily, there would have been nothing to interest me in SEE NO EVIL 2. I would have passed it by entirely were it not for the same thing that got me interested in the original, namely who WWE Productions enlisted to direct it. Jen and Sylvia Soska, also known as the Soska Sisters or Soska Twins, are two of the most exciting voices in filmmaking today. Their first film, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK isn’t a total winner. But it was a fast, funny, damn entertaining flick that had crucial elements missing from most films of any budget – likable characters and talented actors to fill those parts. Their followed this up with AMERICAN MARY, one of my favorite films from 2013. If DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK was a warm-up, AMERICAN MARY was a near-masterpiece. It was an original, tragic, satirical and terrifying look at a woman betrayed by everything she believed in. She then enters a dangerous world that readily accepts her, even while she slowly loses her mind.
Eight years after the original, SEE NO EVIL 2 is given the greenlight with a pair that not only have shown great talent in the past, but a respect both for twisting exploitation fare and dark horror films.
Despite the long passage of time, SEE NO EVIL 2 takes place on the same night as the 2006 film. The bodies from the massacre, including Goodnight’s, are being sent to the morgue. The crew is pretty light. Amy (Danielle Harris) is about to leave for work and celebrate her birthday, but offers to instead stay and help process the incoming cadavers. Her two co-workers agree to handle the load, but also get her friends to show up so she can spend at least part of her big day amongst the living.
Like so many slashers, Goodnight can take a licking. One of Amy’s friends, serial killer fangirl Tamara (Katherine Isabelle) accidentally alerts the killer. Faster than you can say HALLOWEEN II, Goodnight is up and stalking, hunting down staff and revelers alike.
So, what makes SEE NO EVIL 2 so much better than its predecessor? Primarily, the film is in the hands of two talented individuals who know what they’re doing. The duo is technically skilled and knows how to create suspense from a tried and true formula. They’ve brought a lot of talent with them. Kane continues to impress as Goodnight. Harris is one of the best scream queens we’ve got today, bringing a fleshed out character to a role others would be content to write off as simply the Final Girl. Isabelle is allowed to animate her character and winds up delivering some of the film’s most unlikely laughs.
The screenplay by Nathan Brookes and Bobby Lee Darby offers some interesting twists and turns. They also offer explanations for the potential victims’ lack of escape routes or communication with the outside world that are fresh (No “I can’t get a signal” here.). The Soskas use this winning screenplay and deliver some genuine shocks and surprises during SEE NO EVIL 2’s 90 minute running time.
The ending is a bit of a letdown and far-fetched even for a film such as this. Given what has already occurred in the film, I can see how the ending may be plausible. An extra line or two of dialogue would have sealed it. Of course, that line doesn’t appear, so I’m left making excuses for something that should have been solved by others.
Still, the film didn’t leave me wanting like so many have of late. SEE NO EVIL 2 is such a refreshing film. It seems to know you can surprise your audience and infuse your film with drama without giving up on the thrills. It’s an antidote to the ugly, punishing wannabe scarefests that have infested the market recently.
The Soskas seem to be happy at WWE Productions. They have already finished their next film, an action flick called VENDETTA and they are currently working on a more faithful adaptation of the comic, PAINKILLER JANE. As for whatever they have planned after that, I’m on board. Give me more Soskas and also, bring on SEE NO EVIL 3.
SEE NO EVIL – Awful.
SEE NO EVIL 2 – Highly Recommended.
RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA
- What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
- In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.