The first Sinister, directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson, was released in 2012 and was a genuinely scary horror flick: the blend of nasty snuff films and the supernatural worked very well, and all of it was grounded by Ethan Hawke’s wonderfully earnest performance. The solid direction and eerie soundtrack also added a lot of atmosphere and tension to the movie, which made it a film that worked on all levels. For Sinister 2, once again co-written by Derrickson but now directed by Ciarán Foy, the same unfortunately can’t be said: while the Bughuul mythos is still chilling and James Ransone’s returning character still is entirely engaging, it lacks a lot of the core elements that made the original Sinister work so well.
Following the events of the first film, Ransone’s Deputy So & So is now Ex-Deputy So & So, and still looking for answers and a way to stop the supernatural evil that is Bughuul, Eater of Children. In order to do so he goes around torching houses and contacting mythologists who might help him recover more valuable information. Given the fact Ransone’s character was completely likeable in Sinister and he isn’t your typical hero, this part of the story works very well: Ex-Deputy So & So is a character you really root for and feel sympathy for right out off the gate. It’s the rest of the plot that doesn’t fare as well. Enter Shannyn Sossamon’s Courtney, a mother on the run from her abusive husband with her two children, who has taken up refuge in one of the old houses Ransone’s character comes across. While Sossamon has a powerful screen presence, exudes a lot of warmth and is very convincing (despite a wildly inconsistent accent), the two child actors who portray her kids unfortunately don’t do as well. While that’s perhaps understandable, it is a problem when a movie focuses a lot on these children for furthering its story. The biggest offender though is Lea Coco, who portrays the abusive father; his Clint is such a ridiculous and cartoonish caricature, that it’s impossible to take his character seriously. He’s just a device to move the plot forward, which means that he usually brings in similar devices that are just as clichéd: local corrupt policemen and skeevy private eyes who are all just as one-note as he is.
Because of this Sinister 2, along the way, really forgets to be about actual characters. The first Sinister always put its characters first, made sure you bought into their personalities and relationships, which was why you were terrified for these people in the first place. Sinister 2 starts out that way, but then drops the ball big time and becomes one of those sloggy horror films that’s just not remotely scary. An over-reliance on predictable jump scares, much less effective (and frequently too elaborate) snuff films that those from the original, and melodrama surrounding the husband and competitiveness between the kids, sucks all the tension and gravitas out of the movie to ultimately leave you with a poor imitation of Sinister 1. It’s really a shame because Sinister 2 starts out very strong and is even quite funny because of some self-awareness regarding a replacement character. After a while it just forget about depth and development and you’re left with flat and uninteresting archetypes that merely push the paint-by-numbers plot forward. A certain decision also robs Sossamon’s character of her agency and makes her someone who’s entirely dependent on the men in her life, which is a waste of such a potentially captivating character and talented actress.
As mentioned before the soundtrack was one of the main reasons why Sinister was as scary as it was; Christopher Young’s original score was unsettling and the source of constant unease, while the licensed tracks really upped the ante in terms of otherwordliness and occult-like mood. Sinister 2 forgets about this completely, delivering a bland and forgettable auditory experience. It’s a shame because the film could really have benefited from it: there are large stretches of the film where nothing remotely scary happens, until you’re treated to a couple of jump scares, rinse and repeat. The score could’ve injected those stretches with the strangeness and eeriness the movie is sorely lacking. That being said: Bughuul is still a very compelling and frightening entity, and his methods are without a doubt twisted nightmare fuel. The poor guy just needs a much better script than Sinister 2‘s to really shine again.
Sinister 2 doesn’t even come close to its horrifying predecessor; its characters are too flat, its atmosphere too mundane, its scares few and far between. 4/10