Sinister is one of 2012’s best horror films for several reasons, but chief among them is the intensely unsettling atmosphere it creates involving a fresh evil, characters we care about and legitimately terrifying imagery. The sequel? Not so much.
Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone) lost his job on the force after his friendship with a disturbed writer ended in the author and his family being savagely murdered, and he pays the bills now as a private investigator for hire. He’s also keeping busy trying to stay one step ahead of a nightmarish entity named Buguul and the children it corrupts into murder.
His efforts to prevent new families from being slaughtered leads him to a young mother named Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two sons, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan). They’ve taken up residence in a house with a bloody history as a temporary refuge from Courtney’s abusive husband, but as terrifying as her ex is the horror growing under her new roof is far more threatening.
It’s tempting to wonder if Sinister 2’s screenwriters even watched the first film, let alone paid attention to it, but that’s pretty much a non-starter as Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill co-wrote both (with Derrickson playing double-duty on the first and directing too). Everything that worked so well in the original is absent here – terror, restraint and mystery – and we’re left only with obvious, generic scare attempts and an excess of unwanted information.
The original film was built in part on a reveal that the missing children are the ones killing their own families before being brought into Buguul’s supernatural realm – like a demonic Fagin he collects little ones and turns them into misbehaving buguuligans – so the sequel wastes no time pretending the immediate threat is anything but one of Courtney’s sons. Dylan is chosen by the other “ghost” children, and his nights are an alternating display of nightmares courtesy of Buguul and creepy home movies made by each of member of his undead miniature entourage.
The problem starts almost immediately – we’re getting to see how the sausage is made, but instead of being grossed out we’re left uninterested by the abundance of information. We watch the dead kids try and turn Dylan into a killer, and in addition to deflating the mystery and the unsettling unknown of the first film it’s done with child actors who knock us out of the experience even further with poor, exaggerated acting. They talk too much and they’re around too frequently to be scary, and they think that holding their chins to their chest is enough to create unease and menace. By contrast, young Robert gives an emotional performance that fights a losing battle against the broad strokes encircling him.
The Super8 home movies that work so beautifully in the first film fail to capture the imagination here. They feel like slight imitations, and when a couple of them try to up the ante by adding gore the whiff of desperation becomes noticeable. They’re obligations here instead of terrifying glimpses into a nightmare, and when a clearly over it Dylan tells the little bastards to “just play” the next one so he can leave the room we can’t help but agree with the sentiment.
The lack of atmosphere carries over into the lack of other scares too, and it all grows less scary as the number of jump attempts increase – each telegraphed in advance, each accompanied by a loud sound or music cue to let us know we’re supposed to jump. One sequence involving “something” making noises beneath an overturned bowl is milked for two scenes when it’s immediately clear that a perfectly natural explanation awaits discovery. The only moment of terror that actually works in the film is one involving the boys’ violent father moving from docile to dangerous in a heartbeat. Dylan’s fear is clear whenever the man enters the scene, and we can’t help but quake with the frightened boy.
Director Ciarán Foy (Citadel) does competent work here in crafting the visual style and capturing the action, but he’s let down by a script resistant to atmosphere and devoid of supernatural scares. We’re made to see far too much of the kids to the point where they become bland supporting characters, and when everything comes to a head in the third act characters who had previously displayed at least some smarts become horror film cliches instead. There are minimal bright spots in the script including the good deputy’s countrywide quest and the tease of a supernatural numbers station-like scenario, but they’re buried in an avalanche of cheap scares and the unwise decision to show us things better left imagined.
Sinister 2 fails to revisit what worked – and continues to work on re-watches – so well in the original and instead settles for jump scares over real fear. Sever the chain and end the nightmare by skipping this misfire until it hits Netflix.
The Upside: Brief moments of legitimately terrifying domestic violence; Ransone and Sossamon; unexpected ending
The Downside: Abundance of jump scares that fail to scare; atmosphere is deflated to the point of non-existence; some rough child actors used far too frequently