The first Sinister, directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and written by both Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, won both praise and box office receipts to land itself as a surprise hit in 2012 that actually deserved its success. Derrickson and Cargill’s film played around with many familiar horror tropes while weaving them into the tale of the creepy creature Bughuul and his cult’s snuff films that add a grimy and unsettling vibe to the search for answers by Ethan Hawke’s disgraced writer. Hawke doesn’t return for this go-around, given the ending of the previous film, and now it’s time for Bughuul to set his sights on another family to twist and terrorize. The mysterious monster is up to his same old tricks again, which is unfortunate, because that means Sinister 2 mostly comes across as yet another rehashed and disposable horror sequel.
With only Deputy So & So (James Ransone) returning from the first go-around, now off his police job and on the hunt for more Bughuul locations to cleanse, the new film focuses on single mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) going through a difficult battle with her husband over the custody of her sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan). But soon their paths cross when she and the boys move into a rural house that’s inhibited by the ghosts of Bughuul’s child followers, and the two brothers soon find themselves as the next targets of this cult.
Not merely content to focus purely on the supernatural, Sinister 2 (now directed by Ciaran Foy) devotes its time to both the ghostly happenings and also the underlying family drama, but the two threads never coalesce into a unified story. This leaves the abusive husband plotline feeling perfunctory to Bughuul’s menace, and it rarely ties satisfactorily into the brothers’ ghostly experiences or So & So’s (still no real name) quest to rid the house of the dangerous presence within it. As a result, these sequences end up as obstacle points to get to the real drawing point of the film as the child ghosts become more and more prevalent around the farmhouse. Shades of Children of the Corn are abound at various points, from the corn field setting to even the use of a sickle for violent mayhem.
Sinister 2 uses So & So’s subplot to shed more light on Bughuul’s mythology, treading the line between tantalizing the audience with new information and not falling into Hannibal Rising territory where the over-explanation wrecks its primary villain’s mystique. Bughuul remains an ominous, if mostly immobile, figure with his angular black eyeholes and shabby hair, although Foy gives the kid ghost gang significantly more screen-time, to lesser results. The specters lose their potency fast with so much attention devoted to them, sapping the creepy edge that the film tries to create with its combination of supernatural darkness and real-world trauma. Bughuul’s 8mm home murder movies, like in the first film, are the most effective scares here, with their grainy quality evoking the feel of genuine snuff films, although one reel involving alligators is more likely to elicit haughty laughs than shock.
The biggest hurdle that Sinister 2, like the assembly line of other horror sequels before it, has to overcome is recapturing scares that have already been experienced before. But like comedy sequels, horror sequels rarely accomplish that, because recreating lightning in a bottle almost always ends up a futile exercise, especially when working within a genre that thrives on the unknown for its effectiveness. Predictability and slack execution of the scares are the ultimate downfalls here, and Foy is left to bring back old plot devices like the dry exposition man who’s only there to take the place of Vincent D’Onofrio’s role from last time. Despite attempts to gussy up the narrative with its parallel parental woes and inklings of villainous background, Sinister 2 can’t help but feel like it’s retreading familiar ground without the solid sense of dread that crept its way through the veins of Derrickson’s original film.