The original See No Evil has an interesting storyline and a strongly fleshed out villain, Jacob Goodnight. However, the rest of the characters in the film were either obnoxious or fell flat. The one character, the cop, that they could’ve done something interesting with was wasted completely. It was pleasingly gruesome in places but it strongly lacked tension, suspense, and any scares to speak of. The kills got repetitive and tedious. In addition, the green-brown color palette of the film, a favorite fall back for modern horror films, doesn’t add to the horror. At best it is a poor substitute for decent lighting, atmospheric staging, and creative camera work. The downfalls of the original film set the bar low, and left a lot be to desired and improve on. Luckily if any one—or in this case, two people—could do that, it’s the Soska Twins.
The Soska sisters’ film American Mary was an original, atmospheric, well paced, well shot, gory-but-without-being-overly -gratuitous, horror thriller, a highlight for 2012 for many horror fans. With eight years passed, See No Evil 2 with the Twins as directors, initially seemed an odd choice for their follow up effort. Luckily, we were able to catch up with them after a recent screening for a quick Q&A, where it was revealed that, despite not having a writing credit on the film, a lot of the script was changed to incorporate their ideas. This included, with collaboration from both scream queen Danielle Harris and Glenn Jacobs, changing characters, incorporating some of the aspects of the first film to maintain continuity of Kane’s character, and even completely altering the ending. It seemed like, from everything they were saying, that the WWE studio allowed them a lot of freedom.
Despite the eight-year gap, the sequel begins exactly at the end of the last film. We meet three morgue workers: Amy (played by genre staple Danielle Harris), Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen), and the wheelchair-bound Holden (Michael Eklund). This group of friendly co-workers expects a quiet nightshift, and, as it’s also Amy’s birthday, they bring out a cake to celebrate. However, before anyone can have so much as a slice, the call comes in that 9 bodies—Including that of the killer Jacob Goodnight (presumed dead)—are being brought to the morgue. Amy decides to stay and help, she calls off her party and gets to work helping Seth process the bodies. Not to be deterred, her friends bring the party to her, thus introducing her brother and a handful of her other friends—one of whom, Tamara, is played by American Mary herself, Katharine Isabelle. So with one foot comfortably entrenched in a distinctly Halloween 2 style setting, the stage is set for Goodnight to return and start the relentless murder and torture all over again—only this time with all the fun that hospital tools can provide! (Something the Soska sisters know all too well after American Mary.)
If you’re a horror and a slasher fan in particular, the movie will not let you down. It is a welcomed improvement upon the original. You get to spend some real time with the characters and learn about their various relationships and personalities—a breath of fresh air for the genre. The Soska twins understand that this sort of build up is vital for a good horror film, as it helps generate tension and suspense, it familiarizes the audience to their surrounding, creates alignment, and, especially in the case of See No Evil 2, allows for a genuine investment in the characters that really pays off in a few twists and turns the film takes—including one that turns a genre convention on its head.
The film, like American Mary, is also beautifully shot. The use of lighting, atmosphere, shadow, and texture is excellent. They avoid that irritating, grimy green-brown scheme and go for something muted but much more naturalistic. Harsh blues emanating from the florescent tube lighting and the mint green hospital walls clash with the deep reds of the exit signs and the oranges and browns of the hot basement to form a hellish environment.
Glenn’s performance as Goodnight is more destructive and powerful than he was in the first film. It’s a delight to see him tearing through doors, gates, windows, and walls with superhuman abandon—it adds a certain, welcome ridiculousness to the proceedings and leads to many great jump scares.
The rest of the main cast, Danielle Harris, Kaj-Erik Eriksen, Michael Eklund, and Katharine Isabelle are very strong in their roles and they help to make the film fun, frightening, and even, occasionally, moving to watch. The other three main members of the ensemble, however, are fairly weak and forgettable in stereotypical roles, but notable for the fact that there is still a semblance of character development.
There are some pacing issues during the middle act and the slight generic nature that these throwback stalk-n-slash movies can have. The Soskas’s do their best to pervert and invert this at every turn, but it doesn’t rival the invention, atmosphere or strange uniqueness of Mary. It some regards, it doesn’t have to, and from the enthusiasm displayed in the Q&A afterwards, Jen and Sylvia seem very happy right where they are. In fact, the Q&A’s discussion quickly turned to the topic of a possible franchise:
Jen: We were like, if I do it, I’ll do up to nine. I’ll take him to da hood and space, wherever he wants to go
Sylvia: I kinda want him to go to Burning Man because he just needs to let it go, and I also think he needs to get laid, because he’s obviously still a virgin and that’s really messing up his entire life.
Jen: I want him to coach a group of high-risk youths.
Sylvia: Through dance?
Jen: Uh… basketball I think.
Jen: Because he’s so tall.
Host: Will you do Jacob takes Manhattan and shoot it all in Vancouver?
Jen: I’d love to come [to NYC] to shoot it, it would have to be a musical.
When pressed seriously about a sequel, though, they mentioned the idea of delving deeper into Jacob Goodnight’s character, how he’s able to continue living and why he’s doing what he’s doing. They also talked about having Glenn ‘Kane’ Jacobs fight people more his own size, rather than younger, smaller people—which could be interesting as their aren’t many people his size but, of course, other wrestlers were mentioned. Sylvia Soska also hinted at a more psychological, psychedelic sequel, complete with dream sequences and ambiguity—that certainly would be a weird and unexpected place to take a WWE produced slasher horror franchise.
When asked who is more deranged out of the two sisters, Jen revealed that Sylvia is, as she is the one who tends to write the ideas too dark to be filmed. Sylvia also likes to call actors by their character names and is generally, while shooting, unconcerned about an actor’s life outside of the film and more concentrated with all of the ins and outs of the character they’re playing.
What came across from the whole experience is that the Soska sisters are down to earth, funny, thoughtful, and—like all good directors—are tied to their work. Their films have a style and sensibility that is uniquely theirs. While it doesn’t live up to the originality of American Mary, if making a sequel to See No Evil allows them to take a step from indie filmmaking into the studio system, and if that, in turn, gives them the ability to make more films and to have some longevity, so much the better. They have earned a high place in the exciting, new wave of younger horror directors, alongside people such as Ti West and Adam Wingard. While twin female horror directors may sound like something a marketing team came up with, the truth is, even though there are two of them, they are one of a kind.