There is a pervasive and thoroughly obnoxious fallacy that claims that film critics don’t like horror movies. In truth, it would rather poor form for any film critic to look down on any genre, since creativity can come from anywhere, and in any context. Just because a film adheres to the rules set down by its dramatic forebears – and good luck finding many that don’t – doesn’t mean it deserves derision. A good genre film can be a dastardly little puzzle for filmmakers, working as they must within strict confines to sneak their personality in through the cracks. They get to rise to a challenge, and the audience – yes, including film critics – gets to decipher just why one generic slasher movie works while all the others seem to suck so bad.
Enter See No Evil 2, a sequel no one wanted to a film that no one seemed to particularly like. The original was an clunky, derivative affair about a serial killer chasing sinful teenagers through a decrepit hotel, and the abusive mother who made the towering Jacob Goodnight (Glenn “Kane” Jacobs) turn evil in the first place. The first See No Evil was perhaps most famous for its final shot – a close-up of a dog peeing in the killer’s gaping eye socket – which many seemed to believe summed up the artistic value of the movie as a whole.
So needless to say, there was nowhere to go but up. And up it goes in See No Evil 2, a film by Jen & Sylvia Soska, who leaped to the forefront of modern horror last year with their body modification treatise American Mary. That film was a starkly original exploration of malleable human flesh and malleable human morality, a deft character study that played like the origin of a particularly complicated Batman villain. So an efficiently entertaining slasher may seem like an artistic retreat for the Soska Sisters, a.k.a. The Twisted Twins, but it’s a step forward in form and pacing, and evidence that they can tackle more mainstream material without sacrificing their teasingly morbid, and obviously lurid personal fascinations.
See No Evil 2 takes place on the night of the original murders – I guess the original protagonists had really old cell phones as some sort of ironic statement – after the bodies are moved into a local morgue. A plucky mortician named Amy (Danielle Harris) skips out on her birthday party to help sort through the mess, so her friends bring the party to her, drinking amongst the corpses and reacting with scintillated interest to the serial killer’s body laying on a slab downstairs.
It doesn’t take long for Jacob Goodnight to wake up and start killing anew, so See No Evil 2 crams as much character as it can into its opening act. Ordinary stock characters show up but get warped Soska-style: Amy’s brother (Greyston Hoult) isn’t just protective, he can barely keep his incestuous lust in check. It’s only after he tells the lascivious Kayla (Chelan Simmons) that he “loves her like a sister” that he can bring himself to make out with her for what feels like ever. Meanwhile, American Mary veteran Katharine Isabelle straddles Jacob Goodnight’s rigorously mortised frame, barely controlling her drunken urge to ride ‘em cowgirl before schtupping her obviously jealous, but admittedly living beau instead, and right next to Goodnight’s corpse (obviously).
After a fitting amount of foreplay, Jacob Goodnight rises to the occasion himself, killing everyone in sight with all the sharp implements at the morgue’s disposal, of which there are many options. And from that moment on, See No Evil 2 operates as a playfully sharp slasher, disposing of the cast in impishly gruesome ways as they run around the building, unable to escape or call for help due to the morgue’s antiquated cell phone propriety rules (they’re all locked in a safe). Bodies drop, blood splatters, and everyone gets their moment to die, to live, and to flirt as much as can be expected with a maniac on their tail.
And also from that moment on, See No Evil 2 gets a lot less interesting. What it demonstrates in genre savvy it sacrifices in personality, as the Soskaisms take a bit of a backseat to old-fashioned mayhem. But they prove, if nothing else, that they know their mayhem. The straight-to-video release See No Evil 2 features a dark, spooky litany of brutal slayings and well-timed jump scares, making it just as good as (almost) any of the Friday the 13th sequels that actually made it to theaters. Take THAT, prestige.
It would take a snootier person than I to complain that See No Evil 2 doesn’t live up to the artistic ambitions of American Mary. Especially when in many respects, the actual craft of the Soska Sisters seems to have improved. The material may not be as passionately portrayed but the confines of the slasher genre have given them an excuse to stay focused, whereas in Mary they seemed all too eager to grab whatever plot point struck their fancy at any given moment in order to ramp up the tension towards the end. Here, we know exactly what we’re supposed to get, and they give it to us. Hard and fast. There are fewer surprises than in their previous work but I don’t eat comfort food to be shocked by the things that end up in my mouth, and I suspect that neither do you.
See No Evil 2 arrives on Blu-ray with some charming albeit self-congratulatory special features, but is absent a commentary track, which probably would have offered the film some much needed personal attachment. An enormous part of the appeal of many horror films is a perceived sense of closeness to the filmmakers themselves, working as they do in an underdog genre that lays all their personal issues and obsessions bare. And although it’s smile-inducing to see behind the scenes footage of the cast and directors hugging each other, actually engaging with those filmmakers in conversation about the film as it plays out in front of us could have contributed more to our sense of connection to an otherwise somewhat mercenary motion picture, especially since the personal touches of the filmmakers were by necessity subdued to fit the needs of the genre.
But even in a vacuum, See No Evil 2 is among the better straight-to-video horror films on the market, and certainly one of the relatively few sequels that blows the original out the water. That the original was absolutely terrible makes that an arguably spurious victory, but a compliment is a compliment. This is a damned fun slasher in era that boasts very few of them, and it’s well worth any horror enthusiast’s time in this otherwise decrepit landscape of the 2014 Halloween season.