Following the tragic murder of the Oswalt family from Sinister, Deputy “So & So” (James Ransone), who previously consulted the Oswalts, is no longer a cop and now works as a private investigator. As he uncovers more information about the mysterious demonic entity known as Bughuul, his investigation leads him to a farmhouse in rural Indiana that’s next to a church where a Bughuul-connected ritual murder took place.
Though at first he is led to believe the home is abandoned, he comes to find that Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan) are living there in order to stay hidden from her abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco). As the former deputy learns more of the Bughuul’s myth and how to possibly put an end to his terror, he finds himself in a race against time to save the Collins family before the demon can claim them as his next victims.
Back in 2012, co-writer/director Scott Derrickson (the underrated The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange), along with Jason Blum and the folks over at Blumhouse Productions introduced us to the snuff film loving Bughuul in Sinister. At the time, I really wasn’t looking forward to the film since Blum and Co. was coming off two crappy Paranormal Activity sequels with the fourth film of the franchise (which would go on to become the worst) following Sinister the next week. Color me pleasantly surprised, though. Despite the horror cliches and the fairly predictable reveal of who the killer ended up being, the film accomplished exactly what it needed to do by delivering an effectively dark, creepy atmosphere and benefited greatly from an earnest performance from Ethan Hawke. While not nearly as good as the first Paranormal Activity, it still turned out to be a touch better than the first Insidious film.
More importantly, and this is far and away the reason we’re getting a sequel, the film was made for pennies to the dollar practically ($3 million to be exact) and took in nearly $80 million at the box office.
So, shocker, here’s Sinister 2.
This time around, Scott Derrickson has left the director’s chair (though he returns with co-writer C. Robert Cargill to write the screenplay), and Ciaran Foy has taken over, following a string of short films and his feature film debut, the Irish psychological horror flick Citadel.
What Sinister 2 mostly has going for it is presenting a change in perspective. Where the first film focused on Ethan Hawke’s adult character, the sequel changes things up by focusing on the kids targeted by the Bughuul. It’s a nice change of pace that seeks to not follow the path most horror and comedy sequels fall prey to in just rehashing what worked the first time to lesser effect.
Yet beyond that and two appealing lead turns from Shannyn Sossamon and a charmingly self-deprecating James Ransone (the unnamed deputy from the first film returning as the geeky, insecure protagonist), Sinister 2 is burdened by its slapdash script and genre trappings.
Focusing on the kids’ interaction with the entity instead of the grown ups looks fresh on paper, and could’ve been provided the performances from the children (Robert and Dartanian Sloan, brothers from a set of triplets) were convincing enough. In the first film, Ethan Hawke totally sold his character’s obsession and descent into madness with uncovering the mystery of the Bughuul, which really was a major factor in elevating the film above what I was expecting to be just another throwaway horror film. Here, Robert and Dartanian lack the tormented innocence of other horror film child performances like Danny Lloyd from The Shining or Haley Joel Osment’s Oscar-nominated turn in The Sixth Sense. Granted, those are high bars set by Lloyd, Osment and also Hawke, and it’s unreasonable to expect the same from the Sloan brothers with this being their first big roles. Still, a genuine sense of fear and childlike evil from them is unfortunately missing.
The second key problem with this film is its disregard for the “Jaws effect”. Unlike its predecessor which used its creepy dead children (an overused genre device that was the weak link of Sinister) and Bughuul sparingly, Sinister 2 places them front and center right from the get-go. Such overuse from Foy, Derrickson and Cargill strips the entity of the chilling mystery it previously had, especially in the cheap, jump out at the screen ways it’s constantly used here. As for the children, who are in the film almost as much as the Sloan boys are, they come off as goofy more than terrifying, though Foy does craft one decently suspenseful moment involving them, Ransone and the use of a flashlight (a similar tactic was used in the much superior film The Orphanage).
It’s also frustrating that Derrickson and Cargill waste the opportunity presented to them with the domestic abuse plot thread between Courtney and her abusive husband. If handled right, it could’ve offered a disturbingly fitting parallel between the underworld horror and the real life horror Courtney and her family are experiencing, but their terrifying ordeal is only painted in broad strokes. As the father, Lea Coco’s portrayal is nothing more than a caricature, and the extent of his abuse is reduced to a cheap shot of one of his kids wetting himself.
All of its problems can be criticized to no end, but it simply boils down to this – Sinister 2 just isn’t scary. It had the potential to be with its few promising ingredients, and the first film laid a strong enough groundwork for it, but aside from those creatively creepy snuff films, it fails to capture the atmosphere that made its predecessor as enjoyable as it was. There’s no mounting suspense or dread; it’s pretty much cheap jump scares accompanied by the obligatory loud sound effect. A few effective moments pop up here and there, but they are few and far between, and the contrived ending reduces the effect the no compromise approach of the first film had. Overall, this followup to the entertaining 2012 horror hit is overcome by the lazy stench of “sequel-itis”.