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‘See No Evil 2’ Directors Jen and Sylvia Soska on Reinventing Horror and the Benefits of a Creative Partnership (VIDEO)

'See No Evil 2' Directors Jen and Sylvia Soska on Reinventing Horror and the Benefits of a Creative Partnership (VIDEO)

In many ways, See No Evil 2 is the perfect horror film. As the sequel to 2006’s See No Evil, it boasts a terrifying antagonist in tortured killer Jacob Goodnight (WWE superstar Glenn “Kane” Jacobs), truly shocking moments, and blood galore. Yet what makes this film rise above the rest are the women behind the camera. 

Writer-director twins Jen and Sylvia Soska are not only ardent fans of horror but ardent feminists as well, and the women’s perspective brings a deeply refreshing feel to what could otherwise be a run-of-the-mill slasher. With a deliberate focus on characterization and suspense over “cool” gorefests, a horror film does for once what it should: horrify us, with violence that strikes home.

Kane’s chilling presence as Goodnight practically guarantees him a spot with iconic killers Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, balancing a tormented mind with merciless brutality. Meanwhile, our cast of would-be victims (led by genre veterans Katharine Isabelle and Danielle Harris) may be attractive youths, but the film takes the time to establish their goals, hopes, and relationships to make them human, rather than objects to be mutilated. And when characters the audience find relatable struggle to survive, it proves profoundly more affecting than scenes of Saw-like torture. (The sisters certainly have fun, though; the creativity of the kills will haunt nightmares for weeks.) 

Horror fans and normal movie-goers alike will find much to love in this film, especially with such talented, genre-savvy filmmakers at the helm. See No Evil 2, which the sisters describe as a “very arthouse slasher homage… unconventional gender stereotypes,” was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 21. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for a behind-the-scenes featurette.)

Women and Hollywood spoke with the Soska Sisters about reinventing the genre, their creative partnership, and the need for strong women protagonists in horror.

W&H: You wrote and directed both
your previous films (Dead Hooker in a Trunk and American Mary). What drew you to this script as directors?

Jen and I never want to do the same thing twice. After American Mary,
despite what we were pitching, everyone wanted us to make a watered-down
Mary. Then WWE Studios and Lionsgate came in with See No Evil 2. We
love slasher films and started watching WWE when Kane was first
introduced, so this was a dream job. We got to make this very arthouse slasher homage, this very self-aware horror flick with unconventional gender
stereotypes. It was exactly what we wanted to do.

We love horror so much. We want to take on every sub-genre in horror.
We’ve done grindhouse and body horror (and will likely return to both).
The idea of creating, or rather recreating, our own masked man, from the
mask down to his theme music, was so exciting! 

W&H: Do you enjoy writing or directing better, or the combination?

I don’t think I would want to write and not direct something. I’m too
precious about my stories, unless it was a director who I just adore,
then it wouldn’t matter. Writing is a much more personal process. When
you write something, it is exactly how you envision it from your mind.
When you direct, there will be modifications — there has to be for
hundreds of different reasons. But your job is to keep the soul intact,
to make the film better and stronger, and to tell the story you want to
tell in the best way possible.

I really love doing both together. We’re natural storytellers and we
like to be involved in every aspect of filmmaking. I love being able to
create something out of nothing and then see it come to life on set.
It’s an incredible feeling.

W&H: What were some of the biggest challenges in making See No Evil 2?

It honestly should have been a lot more challenging than it
was, but it wasn’t. The crew we have in Vancouver is amongst the
world’s best. When there should have been problems, we have
professionals working their asses off to make sure it didn’t affect
production. I’ve made See No Evil 2, ABCs of Death 2, and Vendetta with
this team — I will always bring projects home to work with this team. I
can’t praise them highly enough.

I guess the biggest challenge was taking on an existing franchise and
evolving it to this generation while paying the proper respect to the
original. There were some great successes in the first film, but there
were also some missed opportunities, and we came on to the sequel wanting
to rectify those shortcomings. We redesigned the character to make him
have more of an iconic look and fleshed out his backstory and psyche a
little more. We brought back his signature kill and signature weapon. 

W&H: Does collaborating ever pose difficulties, like disagreements in vision, and if so, how do you balance each other’s ideas?

The good thing about collaborating with Jen is that we have similar
interests. We just go to the same goal in different ways. Those differences
really complement one another. We discuss a lot before we get onto set; we talk a lot about the film and different scenes or characters
or whatever. The main thing is that we both just want to make a cool
movie. I think that’s where the heart of good collaboration comes from —  you need to be making the best film that you can.

Sylv and I are very like-minded. We have the same tastes in almost
everything, but we see things very differently. I always joke that she’s the Lars Von Trier and I’m the Joss
Whedon. I put the heart in and she tears it out, haha. We discuss
everything in pretty meticulous detail in the writing period. By the end
of it, we’re always on the same side and know what we both want. 

W&H: Horror
is a genre notorious for violence toward female characters as well as a
lack of women behind the camera, but many women (myself included!)
adore its stories and style. How important is it to you to bring a
woman’s perspective to your work, and to make your characters empowered
rather than passive objects?

Every person has a different perception of the world, a different way
to express art, to tell a story. You cut off half your planet’s
population’s perception and stories when you don’t have more diversity
behind the camera. There are a lot of misrepresentations of women within
the horror genre. The audience for horror consists more
of female viewers than male. Alice Guy-Blache was the first director of
fiction cinema and went on to open the Solax Company on the East Coast,  which rivaled Hollywood at the time. She went on to be involved in over
700 productions, including horror, so there is a history of
directresses. We just need to have more women today being hired to
direct films, because there is no shortage of that.

I don’t think there is as much a shortage of women behind the camera as
there is a shortage of women being hired behind the camera. Horror has
been very progressive for women with aspects to it like “the final girl”  and her evolution. She started as the scared virgin and evolved into the
badass femme fatale that won’t go down without a fight and ultimately
beats down her nemesis. I love representing the modern woman in the
films we make. It’s important for girls to have role models in films. I
remember Ripley being a huge role model for me growing up.

W&H: How difficult has it been to find work in horror, and what attitudes have you experienced?

Horror is a genre that will always have a market, and I have found our
work very accepted in that crowd. Getting any films made in this day and
age is hard. There are talented filmmakers waiting tables when they
should be directing multi-million-dollar sci-fi franchises. It sucks out
there. You have to work really hard and try to get as many projects
going as possible, because you really never know what is going to be
funded next.

It’s really tough all over. Maybe it’s easier in horror because there’s
such a demand for it, I’m not sure. I never really experienced a boy’s
club among other directors. Everyone we’ve met has been so supportive,  and we’ve swapped war stories. It’s amazing to get to meet so many
directors I admire. I will say it’s still as tough as ever pitching your
original scripts, especially if those scripts are, well, very original.
Anything that hasn’t been done before appears to be high-risk. Lots of
people loved American Mary. No one wanted to make it.

W&H: I
noticed the violence focuses on emotionally affecting the audience with
the horror of the characters’ deaths, rather than the haphazard gore of
“how cool can we make this kill.” Could you speak about that decision?

I think human life is very precious, and I think pointless death is
horrific. If you are going to kill someone in a film, let the audience
know them and like them, then kill them. That makes everything much more
powerful and impactful. The first twenty minutes of See No Evil 2 is
like a John Hughes movie because we want you to like these doomed
people. Then cry when they die. 

You should feel something when a character dies. I feel that it’s such a
failure to see death or something awful and not feel emotionally
affected by it. Too often a horror franchise will go for pure shock
value over substance, and it just seems like a cheap trick. I like
audiences to feel a whole range of emotion when they watch our films.

W&H: Many
films and festivals are becoming more inclusive, such as the all-women
XX Anthology you’re a part of. How can we better support women’s work in
the genre?

If there is a film directed by a woman — and many times it will be an indie gem — go and see it. If it’s in the theater, go with some friends.
Talk about films and filmmakers that you like, especially online,  because it makes a big difference. The audience has a lot of power in
what gets made and who gets hired. Ask for lady directors and you will
see them.

Unfortunately, we are no longer able to be in the XX Anthology. Our
schedules just got too crazy and we weren’t able to make it work, which
sucks. It’s such an amazing project with so many women we truly admire.

W&H: Any tidbits you can share about Vendetta, your next film?

It’s the most violent thing we have ever made. It stars Dean Cain, Paul “Big Show” Wight, and Michael Eklund, and they are such powerhouses in
this. It’s a very dark revenge thriller that takes place in a men’s
prison. It was one of the best filmmaking experiences of my life.
It will be out in 2015. We are just finishing it now.

It feels like our version of a Punisher film. It’s dark, it’s gritty,
it’s funny, it’s super-violent. We are so excited for it to come out.
It’s our first action movie, and we couldn’t be more excited. It’s a
brutal film. You’ve never seen Dean Cain be such a badass.

W&H: What advice would you give to aspiring female directors?

Grow a very hard skin, don’t let other people’s opinions form your own, work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, stay determined, and
you will be successful. We need to see more films with women directing
them. Please go out and make awesome flicks!

Make sure that you want this more than anything. If you’d be just as
happy being a teacher or lawyer, go do that. It’s a very hard industry.
Being able to keep going is a must-have skill in this industry. It’s
really hard. There are some real low lows, but you also get the highest
of highs. I would highly recommend picking up Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without A Crew or Lloyd Kaufman’s Make Your Own Damn Movie. Stay strong,
remember the decent people that help you out, and ignore the people who
act like dicks or make examples out of them. Never give up. If we can do
it, so can you.

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