Sinister 2 (2015)
97 min., rated R.
2012's "Sinister" earned its title fair and square. As a horror film in which a struggling true-crime writer (Ethan Hawke) moved his family into a murder house in order to write his new book, filmmaker Scott Derrickson masterfully orchestrated a sense of dread so merciless and palpably stifling, while he was more careful and strategic with his jump scares. Before ending with an ingeniously twisted gut-punch, the film's patient mood was stressed with the eyes of Hawke's protagonist being our own as he watched one Super-8 "home movie" after another of the most terrifying variety and the introduction of a new boogeyman, the ritualistic Bughuul, into the annals of horror cinema. And, like most horror films, "Sinister" should have been left alone as a one-off, but there always needs to be a sequel to allegedly expound upon the predecessor's mythology (read: capitalize on the title to make money at the box office).
All of the mystery is now out in the open for "Sinister 2" to pave the way for a new family. On the run from her abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco), Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) has relocated her two twin boys, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), to a farmhouse in Indiana. She's determined to not be found and retain full custody of her sons, so much in fact that she brushes off that the abandoned church, adjacent to their home and Courtney's makeshift studio to restore antique furniture, was the scene of ritualistic mass murders. Meanwhile, the impressionable Dylan is beginning to see the undead children, brainwashed by Bughuul, and forced to watch every filmstrip that documents each one of their family's fates. As luck would have it, Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone), who left the police force after the demise of Ethan Hawke's Ellison Oswalt and his family, is now a private investigator, making it his duty to torch each home where a murder already took place before a new family moves in and Bughuul and his children strike again. The deputy wants to help Courtney, but one of her sons is already being led to do Bughuul's ugly bidding.
Everything "Sinister 2" tries to do, "Sinister" did better. Appreciably working from a script by the first film's writer-director Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill, director Ciarán Foy (2012's "Citadel") still clearly doesn't have the same subtle, confident touch or understated visual eye as Derrickson as this routine, disappointing sequel seems more concerned with pop-out scares. Even the most avid horror fan who knows better might still jump from sudden surprise, but Foy can't seem to pass up a glimpse of Bughuul or one of the young bad seeds, who become progressively corpsy with hokey CGI. The greatest fear is that of the unknown, so overexposing Bughuul makes him less of a nightmarish ghoul than a stand-in for "Where's Waldo?" It was at least a judicious move to invent a new set of "kill films," which are just as disturbing, twisted and doom-laden and still feel like forbidden snuff films that we shouldn't be seeing. Labeled with mundane titles—"Fishing Trip," "Kitchen Remodel," etc.—each home movie begins seemingly normal, even happy, before something goes wickedly askew. "Christmas Morning" might be the most unsettling, and "Sunday Service" could join the vicious, elaborate ranks of a "Saw" movie but also oddly echoes a scene of torture in 2002's "2 Fast 2 Furious."
In spite of some effectively unnerving imagery during the dead moppets' home movies, "Sinister 2" is less of a worthy companion piece when the villains are offered too much screen time and the horror dissipates. While this sequel does take a chance by changing its point-of-view to Bughuul's children, that also spells its undoing. The idea of these ghost children being proud of showing their "work" to Dylan is a frightening one, but when the kids are given more participation in the third act, they are better at acting like bratty twerps than posing a menacing threat. Tomandandy's composed work nicely replicates Christopher Young's distinctly chilling and discordant score from the first film, but genuine apprehension is few and far between when the 8mm movies aren't being shown to Dylan on the basement projector.
James Ransone was just the quirky, twitchy comic relief in the first "Sinister," and this time being upgraded to the co-lead, he is given more to do even as the charming, still-unnamed Ex-Deputy So & So. As single mother Courtney, Shannyn Sossamon is strong (despite a distracting southern accent) and gets to actualize a little bit of a life outside of the plot. There's an advantage to casting real-life identical brothers Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan as Dylan and Zach, one of them more pure-hearted than the other who's more like a spawn of their wretched father. The main source of interest lies in the juggling of the deputy and Courtney's relationship, Bughuul's use of Dylan and Zach, and how it will all culminate in a cornfield, but even the resolution is less uncompromising. With nowhere else to go with Bughuul who apparently cannot be stopped but leaves a few survivors, the film finally ends with one final "boo!" that's not only a knockoff of its predecessor but still settles nothing. As much as this fan of "Sinister" would like to say the sequel is an exception to the rule that horror sequels are almost always inferior, "Sinister 2" just misses the mark too often.