Written by: Josh Edwards, Dean Jones
Directed by: Dean Jones
Starring: Chauntal Lewis, Christopher Doyle, and Bruce Dern
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
If you can't be something great, do something terrible.
Movies sometimes have bizarre production histories that cast longer shadows and prove to be more interesting than the film itself. In this case, the story behind Toolbox Murders 2 is the only interesting thing going on. If you’re even the least bit familiar with it, you likely did a double take when clicking on this review. I know I certainly did when it arrived at my door step after a nearly decade-long odyssey. Rehashing it almost feels like a disservice or like spoiling the best part of a movie, but suffice it to say that this “sequel” to Tobe Hooper’s 2004 film has more or less been in the works since around 2006. At one point, effects artist Dean Jones directed something that bombed with producers and investors before the film was quietly released as Coffin Baby in 2012.
But, in true slasher movie fashion, this project just would not die. Three years later, it’s resurfaced under its original title, apparently with some recently shot footage and without some subplots from the previous release. The result is just as messy and incoherent as this strange tale would lead you to believe—and this is despite the fact Toolbox Murders 2 has apparently been cut down to its barest essentials.
How bare? The entirety of the plot involves a girl’s (Chauntal Lewis) shocking discovery of her sister’s gruesome murder at the hands of the notorious TBK (Christopher Doyle) before she’s abducted herself. Over the course of 80 minutes, she’s held captive, tortured, and forced to watch as the maniac brutalizes other victims and feeds her the cooked remains. Occasionally, she wanders the facility, where she inexplicably bumps into Bruce Dern, whose presence here is so confounding that it demands to be answered for.
Also demanding to be answered for: Toolbox Murders 2. Why—and, better yet, how—does this movie even exist? Usually we ask this of the truly unhinged movies that cross our paths because they can’t possibly be of this earth. But this one prompts disbelief because you wonder how human beings could conspire to produce something that is so goddamn miserable. Toolbox Murders 2 isn’t a movie—it’s pure contempt for humanity (specifically women) bottled up into 80 minutes of vile images that just so happen to move, and they do so with all the cinematic verve of someone holding a camera up to circus sideshow. At least The Wizard of Gore had a sense of showmanship. On the contrary, TBK only exists to inflict pain and torture upon a girl and nothing more—there is no story here, nor are there any thrills to be found. I’m not prone to clutching pearls, but I’m not sure why anyone would willingly subject themselves to this sort of misery.
You could argue that maybe it’s worthwhile for the effects alone, which are admittedly staggering. Given Jones’s background in effects, it comes as no surprise that dozens of bodies are magnificently eviscerated. TBK's lair becomes a hellish underworld with corpses piled into a visceral, Bacchanalian mass, a startling image to be sure, albeit not one that’s worth sitting through Toolbox Murders 2 to witness. Had these effects occurred in even a functional slasher movie, they’d likely be revered alongside some of the genre’s legendary gore showcases. They’re that effective. That they can’t redeem this experience is proof that Toolbox Murders 2 is that dispiriting and brutal to watch.
Given it was first conceived nearly a decade ago, it comes as no surprise that Toolbox Murders 2 takes its cue from the era critics labelled “torture porn.” Most bristle at the terminology and with good reason: for all its gruesomeness, Saw at least weave twisted tales of depraved morality. This film feels like someone heard about Saw and Hostel from a third-hand source and attempted to mimic them sight unseen with less talent across the board. From the acting—which is less convincing and less lively than the gore-soaked mannequins—to the shoddy camerawork, The Toolbox Murders 2 is a thoroughly amateur production driven by a juvenile need to provoke without thought, to engage in violence without considering how ugly and debauched its outbursts are. In a genre where violence is often visited upon women, do we really need a film that indulges in this trope even more without justifying it? At a certain point, Toolbox Murders 2 begins to feel like a hate crime designed to appeal to misogynists who wish for nothing more than to see a maniac sever a girl’s hand and blowtorch the wound.
To be fair, similar complaints were lobbed at the original Toolbox Murders, and this is not to mention most of the slasher genre. Drawing a line here may seem arbitrary, but at least its predecessors were executed with at least a modicum of skill and have stories to tell, no matter how thin they may be. Outside of its effects work, Toolbox Murders 2 bores so forcefully and offers so little value that you begin to feel bad for those involved. You want to admire how Lewis attempts to shoulder the entire film on her own, yet you’re dismayed that she finds herself in so many silly situations, whether it be cradling her dead boyfriend’s severed head as she whispers to it or fighting TBK over his choice of television programming as she clutches a bowl of popcorn. You want to commend this film for somehow snaring Bruce Dern, yet you’re never even quite sure why he&襊s there, especially once Toolbox Murders 2 degenerates into incoherent nonsense—somehow, a film with virtually no plot still manages to careen right off of the rails once story developments threaten to happen. Ultimately, you want to thank it for making it easy by providing a tagline that perfectly summarizes the thought behind it: "if you can't be something great, do something terrible."
I’m almost left speechless by Toolbox Murders 2, a film that endured so much development hell that you can’t believe anyone even bothered to finish it. Nothing about it seems particularly salvageable in any form, and the final product is simply unpleasant. Not unsettling, disturbing, or disquieting—just plain unpleasant, sort of like the stench of rotting garbage that’s been left out in the sun for too long. The only thing more amazing than its existence is the fact that it has secured distribution from Scream Factory; its more natural habitat would be a 50-movie multipack, where it would rest alongside similarly amateurish, low-grade productions hailing from untold corners of the world. The one thing that could have justified such a release—a feature length (or, hell, 30-minute long) documentary charting the film’s production—is nowhere to be found on a disc that only features a trailer for its lone supplement. Then again, I probably wouldn’t want to associate my face with Toolbox Murders 2, either, so maybe this was the first good decision by anyone involved.
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