Scott Derrickson’s 2012 horror joint Sinister didn’t break at all from the well-worn “horror” path, lined as it was with genre tropes: creepy little kids; the sound of footsteps coming from no one and nowhere; and a perpetually dark house, even in the middle of the day. Still, it managed to be an atmospheric, genuinely eerie fright fest, and therefore was destined (or doomed) to get a sequel. Unfortunately, Ciaran Foy’s Sinister 2 doesn’t deliver in the same manner.
Which is disappointing given that Irish-born Foy has the tools and know-how to craft an effectively chilling film, even illustrated as early as in his debut feature, Citadel, a paranoid slow burn with supernatural and religious overtones—also one of my favorite movies of 2012. Though Derrickson, who has moved on to direct Marvel’s Doctor Strange, and original co-writer C. Robert Cargill—Massawrym from AICN fame—are back to tackle scriptwriting duties, none of that moodiness or tension of any of the filmmakers’ best efforts are back on display.
Picking up in the wake of the first film, Sinister 2 finds Deputy So & So (James Ransone)—So & So is the character’s actual credited name, mind you—still tracking the evil supernatural presence, Bughuul (Nicholas King), who has set his sights on single mom Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two twin boys, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan). Courtney and the boys have a mystery in their past, which (at least initially) gives the film a breath of tension, but it soon morphs into a tired, unimaginative subplot that only succeeds in wasting time and dragging the pace of the whole film down until watching Sinister 2 feels like wading through viscous muck when it should be ramping up towards a climax.
Bughuul, again, is very literally the Boogeyman—he’s referred to as such—and every time Foy deigns to give the audience a glimpse of him—which happens way more than is necessary, way more, in fact, than is reasonable for a supposedly scary movie—it’s hard not to laugh looking as he does like the front man for an ’80s cock rock band. Really, the biggest problem with Sinister 2 is that it’s difficult to take almost any element of it seriously. So & So, now an ex-deputy, served as flustered comic relief the first time around, and here his twitchy, bug-eyed performance doesn’t have the presence to carry the entire movie on his slouched shoulders—he’s more Shaggy from Scooby-Doo than leading man/demon hunter.
The kids, too, do the film no favors: Every performance from a child actor is stilted to the point of comedy—and, yet, the film keeps them coming. We start with Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann), a sweater-vest-wearing preppy alter boy, and then another terrible child actor shows up, and then another, each somehow a worse actor than the preceding, until Sinister 2 resembles an overcrowded after-school special about dealing with peer pressure from ethereal ghost bullies. All the cool kids are murdering their entire families, apparently.
Meanwhile, instead of relying upon atmosphere or the inherent creepiness in children, tropes already employed so often in horror cinema to great effect, Sinister 2 basically depends on jump scares—which are to be expected in a movie like this, and in themselves are thrilling—accompanied by ear-piercing sound design. Rather than create an overarching feeling of dread, or develop an aesthetic language for their own brand of horror, Foy, Derrickson, and Cargill are simply concerned with outdoing every previous ghost-child kills—one of which involves, no joke, staged gator attacks.
There are ideas here that have some potential: Bughuul using children as his vessels of evil is a spooky, if not the most original tactic, and imbuing film itself, and in a larger sense all art, with thaumaturgic sensibilities is an avenue that is worthy of exploration—as well as a big reason why the first film worked so well. Here, however, all originality or symbolism or thematic curiosity is relegated to some creepy old records, digitally aged 8mm film, and a squawking ham radio that occasionally speaks Norwegian. These are gimmicks, not key parts of the plot.
Sinister took familiar horror rhetoric, and, while not turning it on its ear by any means, fashioned that language into a solid genre offering. Sinister 2 is what its predecessor could have been in the wrong hands: It takes imagery and devices that you’ve seen before, and makes them feel even more worn down, even more tired, than anything you could have imagined on your own.
Director: Ciaran Foy
Writer: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Nicholas King, Lea Coco
Release Date: August 21, 2015