There are elements of a decent horror parable here, but Sinister 2 lacks the restrained direction and eery mythos of its predecessor.
Sinister 2 picks up some time after the death of the Oswalts, as "Deputy So & So" (James Ransone) is no longer a police officer and now works as a private investigator; he uses his spare time to uncover more information about the dangerous supernatural entity known as Bughuul, in the hope of putting an end to his murderous cycle. "So & So" eventually learns of a house in rural Indiana that's located next to a church where a ritual murder - one that appears to be connected to Bughuul - took place, and sets out to destroy the building, before another family moves in there and suffers the same gruesome fate as the Oswalts (and the many victims before them).
However, "So & So" is too late, as he arrives at the house to find a woman named Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and her young sons, Dylan and Zach (Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan), have taken refuge there, in order to remain hidden from Courtney's abusive husband, Clint (Lea Coco), a wealthy and influential local. "So & So" thus finds himself in a race against time, as he seeks to learn enough about Bughuul's methods (and thus, how to stop him) before the demon makes the Collins clan his latest victims.
Written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill (who also penned the original Sinister) and directed by Ciarán Foy (Citadel), Sinister 2 is a horror movie sequel that goes the Insidious: Chapter 2 route: explaining its (literal) boogeyman's methods better, in order to create a richer mythology from the first installment's standalone narrative. However, whereas the Insidious sequel (its faults aside) does in fact expand upon both the mythos and the events of its predecessor, Sinister 2 ends up watering down Bughuul's threatening nature, resulting in a film that's grosser (more on that later) but never actually scarier than the first installment in the franchise.
Derrickson and Cargill's Sinister 2 script noticeably draws inspiration from Stephen King's Children of the Corn and The Shining; sadly, this potentially interesting blend of influences is wasted on a half-cooked narrative that fails to enrich the history of Bughuul, making him less mysterious and beholden to a (not well defined) set of rules. Part of the problem is that Sinister 2 splits itself unevenly between two inter-weaving plot threads: one about "So & So" and his efforts to stop Bughuul, the other about the Collins brothers being haunted by the demon and his forces. As a result, the majority of the film's characters don't get enough screen time to evolve beyond two-dimensional archetypes; meanwhile, the overall narrative isn't focused enough to fully develop its subtext about the effects of domestic abuse.
Foy, as a director, used the trope of creepy supernatural youths in his feature-length directorial debut Citadel, but the variation of that trope presented here - with Bughuul's "children" a.k.a. the ghosts of his past victims - is more border-line campy than intimidating. Bughuul and his victims are the most ominous at night and/or in dimly-lit interiors, but when they pop up during the film's (many) daytime scenes there isn't much suspense. Foy and cinematographer Amy Vincent (Hustle & Flow, Footloose - 2011) nonetheless do create some striking visuals during scenes set at night, while taking advantage of certain locations that lend themselves to spooky scenarios (basements, old abandoned churches).
Unfortunately, Foy isn't so skilled at putting together effective horror movie sequences, instead using cheap jump scares (read: more stressful that terrifying) in Sinister 2. Similarly, the sequel's "snuff film" sequences are more creative and gruesome than those in the first Sinister; yet, also more over the top. As a result, they broach that Saw sequel torture porn territory by being more goofily disgusting than truly disturbing. Sinister 2 reveals why Bughuul murders are done so elaborately through exposition from one Dr. Stromberg (Tate Ellington) - the replacement for Professor Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio) from the first Sinister - but it still feels like an excuse to create murder scenarios that are bigger and badder than those in the first movie (though they end up not being any better or more unsettling).
James Ransone as "So & So" (even without a name) ends up being the most fully-rounded character in Sinister 2; it helps that he has the most natural reactions to the supernatural events happening around him, too. On the opposite end, Shannyn Sossamon (Wayward Pines) is stuck playing the battered wife type, while Lea Coco (Millennial Parents) is as flat a human villain as they come (as the abusive Collins patriarch). Brothers Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan are somewhere in the middle; the Collins boys are used to explore the different responses that kids have to an abusive parent, yet the plot ends up dictating the characters' behavior and actions (rather than vice versa).
There are elements of a decent horror parable here, but Sinister 2 lacks the restrained direction and eery mythos of its predecessor. The end result is a generic (read: forgettable, but not terrible) horror movie sequel that attempts to one-up its predecessor in terms of scariness and human drama alike, but is ultimately less successful on both counts. Sinister 2 is also evidence that the Bughuul character mythos isn't any richer than that of your average slasher movie villain and probably would have been better off limited to a single movie, rather than a franchise. So, unless you're just in the mood for a (somewhat) serviceable horror film, there's no need to rush and see this one in theaters.
Sinister 2 is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 97 minutes long and is Rated R for strong violence, bloody and disturbing images, and language.
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