Scott Derrickson’s 2012 horror joint Sinister doesn’t break from the well worn horror path, full of genre tropes like creepy little kids, the sound of footsteps when no one is there, and a perpetually dark house, even in the middle of the day. Still, it managed to be atmospheric, genuinely eerie, and was a solid fright fest. Unfortunately, Ciaran Foy’s Sinister 2 doesn’t deliver in the same manner.
This is extra disappointing because the Irish-born Foy has the tools to make an effective horror movie, as illustrated in his debut feature, Citadel. A paranoid psychological slow burn with supernatural and religious overtones, it was one of my favorite movies of 2012. Even 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 the script, none of that moodiness or tension are on display.
Picking up in the wake of the first film, the action finds Deputy So & So (James Ransone)—So & So is the characters actual credited name—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).
Perhaps the biggest problem with Sinister 2 is that it’s difficult to take almost any element of this seriously. So & So, now an Ex-Deputy, was the flustered comic relief the first time around, and his twitchy, bug-eyed performance doesn’t have the presence to carry the entire movie on his slouched shoulders. You don’t buy him as a private detective or a driven demon hunter—he’s more Shaggy from Scooby-Doo than leading man. Courtney and the boys have a mystery in their past, which initially at least, gives the film a breath of tension, but unfortunately it morphs into a tired, unimaginative subplot that only succeeds in wasting time and dragging the pace down until it feels like slogging through viscous muck when the film should be building towards the climax.
Bughuul, again, is very literally the Boogeyman—he’s referred to as such—and every time they show him, which is way more than necessary, way more than they should, it’s hard not to laugh because he looks like the frontman for a theatrical heavy metal band. As is his style, he goes after the kids, this time using ghost children to show Dylan jittery old films of heinous mass murders.
The kids do the film no favors. Every performance from a child actor is stilted to the point where they’re almost comic. And they just keep coming. It starts off with Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann), a sweater-vest-wearing preppy alter boy. Then one after another shows up, all with their own spool of film, each somehow a worse actor than the last, 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 family.
Instead of using atmosphere and the inherent creepiness of children that has been employed so often in horror cinema, Sinister 2 relies on abrupt jump scares—which are to be expected in a movie like this, and as such are frightening—accompanied by ear-piercing sound effects to drive them home. Rather than create an overarching feeling of dread, Foy, Derrickson, and Cargill are more concerned with upping the ante with the various ghost children’s kills—one of which involves, no joke, staged gator attacks.
There are ideas here that have some substantial potential. Bughuul using children as his vessel of evil is a spooky, if not the most original tactic; imbuing film itself, and in a larger sense all art, with thaumaturgic sensibilities is an avenue that is worthy of exploration, and a big reason why the first film worked. Here, however, that is relegated to some creepy old records, digitally aged 8mm film, and a squawking ham radio that occasionally speaks Norwegian; it becomes a gimmick, not a key part of the plot.
Sinister took familiar horror rhetoric and elements viewers are more than familiar with, and, while not turning them on their ear by any means, fashioned them into a solid genre offering; it gets them right. Sinister 2 is the other side of that coin; it takes imagery and devices that you’ve seen before, and makes them feel even more worn down and cliché that they were already. [Grade: C-]