Horror sequels are rarely a particularly enticing proposition. The monsters and madmen that haunt horror films are almost always best confined to the shadows. This notion that ‘less is more’ flies in the face of the sequel’s mantra: more, more, more. This means more blood and more bodies the second go around, which can sometimes be lots of fun, but the results are rarely frightening. The 2012 hit Sinister is the latest in the genre to have its monsters thrust into the spotlight, and nothing is ever quite as scary once you see it in the light.
Sinister 2 picks up a short while after the events of the first film (spoilers for Sinister 1 ahead). Trading in his plucky side character uniform for leading man shoes, James Ransone returns as Deputy So & So (I promise you, this is his name). Now a private investigator, the ex-Deputy spends his spare time searching for crimes that match the pattern of Bughuul, an entity that corrupts children into murdering their families and capturing the crimes with an 8mm camera. His search leads him to a rural farmhouse where he finds Courtney (Shannyn Sossaman, Sleepy Hollow) and her two 9-year-old boys Dylan and Zach hiding out from their abusive father. Since moving in, Dylan has started having night terrors- thankfully he has made friends with a group of ghosty children who have a collection of old 8mm movies they promise will make the bad dreams go away. What happens when he watches all the films… they’re vague about that.
Whereas the original Sinister focused on the parents and on Bughuul, the focus here is on the children. On paper, this seems a wise decision, not just because Ransone’s Deputy was fated to disappoint as a leading man, but also because it gives the film a fresh perspective on what is essentially the same scenario. However, in practice it becomes a dull exercise in pale children doing their best Shining girl impressions asking the boys to play with them. Instead of a father’s journey into the darkness of obsession, we get tweens arguing over who the ghosts think is cooler.
The script by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, who both wrote the original with Derrickson directing, is more interesting on expanding on Bughuul’s mythology than it is in applying that mythology to the plot in interesting ways. Ex-Deputy So & So visits another paranormal professor who adds unnecessary baggage and convolution to a plot that did not need to be more ridiculous. Adding to the list of archaic technology Bughuul is a huge fan of, the boogieman uses CB radios as well as 8mm cameras. The whole thing feels like awkward, unnecessary exposition for future sequels that I’m sure the execs at Blum House are already drawing up the budgets for.
Bughuul’s mythology isn’t the only thing to become bloated in the sequel. The horrifying 8mm home movies that were so effective in the first film are back, but much of their punch is gone, replaced by increasingly absurd Saw-esque scenarios. The truly disturbing thing about the snuff films in Sinister was how plausible they all were. Here, the 8mm shorts are all about shock value, treading the line between over the top and the outright silly (one film features multiple alligators).
Director Ciaran Foy, who directed the wonderfully unsettling Citadel back in 2012, does manage to get some mileage out the script’s weak legs. A general sense of unease pervades the film and several scenes cook up some real tension, but it’s a tension that’s always short lived. Foy simply can’t help but trip over the clumsy writing that stumbles its way to a final act that is both surprisingly silly and worse: not scary; quite the disappointment after the killer ending of the original.
Technical credits are strong all around. Sinister 2 might not deliver on its promised scares, but it certainly looks the part, thanks to some solid art and set direction and Amy Vincent’s cinematography. Editing credits are shared by three people, Timothy Alverson (Insidious: Chapter 3), Ken Blackwell (Ouija), and Michael Trent (Joyride 3). The result is an almost style-less rhythm that falls very much in like with the modern horror scene these editors are all very much a part of. Savvy horror viewers will be able to set their watches to the jump scares here. This is emblematic of a larger problem with Sinister 2: it feels very familiar. The original film didn’t exactly rewrite the book on horror, but it injected sparks of innovation into a pretty tired formula. At the end of the day, Sinister 2 just feels plain tired.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Its commendable that Sinister 2 plays out like a true sequel, giving weight to the events of the first film, but the film makes misstep after misstep attempting to deliver on what might have been a good idea. With the focus shifted so heavily to the children, Bughuul feels like a bit player in his own film, showing up occasionally for a jump scare, like a gothic jack-in-the-box. Hampered by a script that was likely two or three drafts away from being camera ready, Sinister 2 manages to mildly spook, but never really scares and serves as a reminder that the boogeyman is never more terrifying than when he’s in the shadows.