With a questionable pedigree that includes a former porn director gone legit, an apparently popular wrestler in his first movie role, and the backing of a new production company self-explanatorily called WWE Films, it comes as a relief that "See No Evil" is a more capably made horror picture than the abysmally bad "An American Haunting
." That's faint praise, to be sure, but what is more depressingthat an unseasoned actor known for throwing sweaty men around a ring has found himself in a superior effort to the new film starring Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek, or that Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek have ended up in a pile of dreck far inferior to the new exploitation cheapie starring someone named Kane?
Harkening back to the days of early-'80s slasher flicks, most of them little more than ninety minutes of a psycho killer stalking cardboard cutout teens and hacking them to death, "See No Evil" gives its audience just that. This time, the victims-to-be and destined survivors are a group of juvenile delinquents who have accepted an assignment to clean up an old abandoned hotel in exchange for a month being shaved off their sentences. They include Christine (Christina Vidal), the misunderstood good girl; Kira (Samantha Noble), the tattooed rebel; Michael (Luke Pegler), the insensitive jerk; and Hannah (Tiffany Lamb), the dumb blonde, among others. The eight misfits have barely gotten through the door long enough to get into trouble before they (and their supervisors) start getting picked off at random by a nearly seven-foot-tall maniac (Kane) with a soft spot for ripping out eyeballs and storing them in jars.
There is a bit more to the villain's development than just thathis abusive, deeply scarring childhood and relationship with his fanatically religious mother are seen in brief flashbacksthough not enough that his unsubtle name of Jacob Goodnight is ever revealed before the end credits. It warrants mentioning, though, that "The Da Vinci Code
" isn't even close to being the most blasphemous film for die-hard Christians released this week. That film, for all of its controversial theories and historical reconstructions, actually makes religion hip and interesting for two and a half hours. "See No Evil," however, features a brainwashed Christian extremist who brutally murders people for their sins while the cheerful "Jesus Loves the Little Children" plays creepily in the background. Which movie is more potentially offensive? One hint: it ain't the one with the Mona Lisa cameo.
Talks of the bandwagon mentality of radical organized religions aside, "See No Evil" is a straightforward, bare-bones horror film that roughly succeeds at doing what it sets out to do. The movie, directed by Gregory Dark, isn't ever really scary, but it is gory, unforgivingly grisly, and efficiently paced. As the slim story goes through the motions, some clever elements are thrown into the mix. The order of the body count and the identities of the bodies aren't easily predicted; the character deceptively introduced as the central hero is one of the first to bite the dust, while the biggest A-hole of them all saves the day in the end. The ways in which the teens are dispatched are also wickedly ironic, with a greedy person being crushed by a safe, a cell phone-obsessed bimbo getting her just desserts, and a third character being ripped apart by the same dogs he/she had previously defended.
Fans of Kane, who receives above-the-title billing, might be disappointed that his performance consists of grunts, groans, swinging axes, and a single line of dialogue. As a cinematic heavy, he physically fits the bill, but whatever remaining effectiveness Kane holds probably has more to do with his naturally off-kilter facial features than actual thespian skills. Of the teens, only Christina Vidal (2003's "Freaky Friday
"), as Christine, stands apart from the crowd as possessing charismatic promise. The rest of the performances range from adequate to dismalin other words, par for the course in this genre.
There is a nostalgic feel to "See No Evil" in the way it is so faithfully derivative of the low-grade, entertainingly bad slasher items of two decades ago. Zero brain power is required to watch it, and its only purpose is to showcase a series of murder set-pieces, each one bloodier than the last. For a night of drinking and frivolity with some buddies, the film is what it is, and works under those conditions. Put up against the best and smartest horror movies of recent years (i.e. "High Tension
," "The Exorcism of Emily Rose
," "House of 1000 Corpses
"), "See No Evil" is a perfunctory exercise in poor production values and by-the-numbers plotting that will be forgotten about the second it ends and the lights come up.