NB: This is a spoiler-free review of Sinister 2, which includes plot details about the end of the first film. If you haven’t seen the original Sinister, proceed with caution.
How many horror sequels exceed the scare factor of the first film? You can probably count them on one hand and unfortunately, despite offering stronger characters and a more emotionally resonant story, Sinister 2 falls among the far more numerous cases of diminishing returns in horror franchise history. It’s deeper, but not scarier.
For those who are unfamiliar with Sinister, the first film was a unique spin on the found footage horror genre, in which Ethan Hawke’s true crime novelist Ellison Oswalt literally found footage of grisly murders that had taken place in his new house and copycat killings in homes around the country. Investigating further, Ellison eventually deduced that the culprit was supernatural: a demonic deity called Bughuul, who seems to be the basis behind the notion of the boogeyman.
Sinister 2 is told from the perspective of Ellison’s ally, known only as Deputy So & So (James Ransome) – the only other person who has figured it all out. In the sequel, we find him in a new role as a private investigator, set on a path to defeat Bughuul by burning down the houses where the murders took place, so that no unsuspecting family will move into the available and very affordable properties and continue the curse.
However, one of these properties already has new tenants. Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) has taken her twin sons Dylan and Zach (Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan) away from their violent father Clint, (Lea Coco) who is wielding his influence to hunt them down. Unaware of the supernatural threat dangling over them, the ex-deputy may be the only one who can protect them against Bughuul’s spell.
That spell is really stretched to breaking point over the course of this sequel, and Sinister 2 is a textbook case of a single film that didn’t really need to be a franchise. The summary above is pretty much the length and breadth of what we need to know about Bughuul, and it’s teased out over the course of the first film. While the sequel wisely avoids debunking the demon’s mysterious methods by giving us more backstory, that leaves it repeating itself quite a lot.
The script is once again written by C Robert Cargill and the previous film’s director Scott Derrickson. Derrickson’s handed over the reins to Ciarán Foy, whose previous 2012 killer kid thriller Citadel seems to have put him in an ideal position to helm this one. However, Cargill and Derrickson do manage to create stronger characters on their second run, in the absence of any meaningful development of their monster. That shouldn’t feel so refreshing, but it’s the opposite of what most horror sequels do at this juncture.
Amusingly, the only returning character, the now ex-Deputy So & So, still hasn’t been given a name in the course of his graduation to the lead role. He’s our protagonist because like us, he knows what went down in the first one, but he’s also more than just a cipher for the audience’s benefit.
He’s immediately more proactive in trying to fight all of this than selfish, curious Ellison was, even though he’s most often scared out of his mind. Added to which, Ransome makes a very likeable screen presence; a nebbish Bruce Campbell figure with feet of clay and a heart of gold.
Sossamon also puts in a good turn as the determined single mother whose trust must be earned by our unlikely hero. As the details of the family’s previous living situation are teased out, Courtney proves to be very protective of her boys, even while also fearing that one of them might be a little too much like his father. It’s this film’s misfortune that The Babadook worked through a more desperate situation with an anguished single mother, so recently and so definitively, but just as it was in that film, you feel for a woman who has enough trouble before all the supernatural gubbins goes on.
The domestic abuse sub-plot forms the thread that may well be the most divisive, because it literally divides the twins, who start out as bickering brothers, before we really see the fundamental differences in their personalities as a result of their treatment by their father. Both are being nurtured to be violent, but only one of them is being courted by an ancient pagan god.
All of this makes for a more interesting study of a dysfunctional family than Sinister, but fatally, the sequel just isn’t that scary. There are so few genuine surprises in store, the prospect of Sinister 3 starts to become faintly depressing after the credits roll on this one. Blumhouse Productions has a few franchises in its stable, but it might have been more satisfying to get Cargill and Derrickson to collaborate on a new project than to have them make a sequel to their first hit.
If Paranormal Activity 3 and Insidious Chapter 3 are anything to go by, any third instalment might just “go back to where it all began” rather than rehash. If you ask us, the third way to do a third film would be to skip ahead four instalments and use the cinematic nature of Bughuul to its logical extreme by pulling a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare on this sucker.
As it stands, Sinister 2 elaborates on the first film without truly enriching it, and unless you really want more of the same, it’s strictly for fans of the original. While Sinister acknowledged and responded to the prevalent trends of modern mainstream horror, (namely, found footage and jump scares) this sequel merely presents and perpetuates them without comment, and the talented cast and their interesting characters get lost in the mix.
Sinister 2 is out in UK cinemas now.
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