The original “Sinister” from 2012 wasn’t a perfect frightener. It had some logic problems and struggled to define exactly who its villain Bughuul was, but it had Ethan Hawke triumphantly at its center giving one of the best horror performances of the last decade. This film bungles Bughuul even more so (Why is he in a slim-fit suit?) and doesn’t have an actor of Hawke’s caliber at its core. It also is far too silly and the frights are far too frequent. If you thought “The Gallows” or the “Poltergeist” remake were 2015’s low ebb in the genre, “Sinister 2” is even worse. It opens today and it sins are almost too many to chronicle.
Blumhouse Productions, the producer of this problematic picture, co-produced the original “Sinister” as well as the sublime “Paranormal Activity”, “Insidious”, “Oculus” and 2015’s “The Gift.” They seem to have had their deft fingertips on almost every great frightener that’s come down the pike this past decade, but unfortunately they’ve produced a handful of duds too. “The Purge” was great in concept, and only so-so in execution. And none of the four sequels to “Paranormal Activity” can hold a floating, ghostly candle to the original. “Sinister 2” continues the company’s problem with sequels that don’t quite live up to snuff.
And speaking of snuff, the central scares of both “Sinister” movies are those home movies of murderous children filming the slaughter of their families. That concept is gruesome enough, but the original “Sinister” went even further by having the evil kids demonstrate amazing creativity in offing their kin. One hideous child ran over his tied up family with a lawn mower. This sequel seems to think that topping those deaths is enough, and granted, seeing a family electrocuted in a kitchen’s standing water is grisly and effective. But there are no backstories for any of the families as there were in the original. And there’s no Ethan Hawke as the true crime author character to be the audience’s stand-in as he agonizes over watching such horror.
Instead, the viewers’ stand-ins are two morose children, Dylan and Zack, played by Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan, respectively. (Yes, they’re brothers in real life too.) They’ve just moved with their battered mom (Shannyn Sossamom) to a country house next to a church and in mere days are already being visited by Baghuul’s brood of child ghosts. They want the brothers to watch their snuff films, but the two boys seem almost nonplussed by the carnage. They spend more time bickering with the ghosts than recoiling from their cruel films, and it robs those home movies of their impact.
Their mom is a distressed, handwringing Nelly coming off of a terrible marriage, but why is she so blasé about living on the property where a family was ritually slaughtered? This was their only sanctuary choice? Additionally, she keeps reassuring her boys that there’s nothing to be afraid of out there even though objects move about, ghostly images of Baghuul appear everywhere and oh, that’s right, her kids are talking to specters every night! Of course the kids don’t tell mom about it because that would be smart, and this film seems content to play dumb.
Such silliness isn’t helped by the reprisal of the deputy character who was a comic foil in the first one. James Ransome got some good laughs playing off of Hawke, but here he’s asked to play the hero and he might as well be Don Knotts in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” He’s supposed to be a crusader here, out to stop Baghuul and burn down all of his death houses, but he pratfalls left and right and more often than not is distracted by the comely missus. In fact, he spends more time worrying about his flirtatious quips than he does about telling them they’re doomed. So how is an audience supposed to care about either of the two clueless adults in this as they so blithely ignore all the danger around them?
Then there’s the lacking of consistency in this film with the tropes set up by the first “Sinister.” Why are the ghost children here just a little pale looking some moments, while taking on the appearance of rotting zombies the next? What is Baghuul’s motivation for appearing as haphazardly as he does throughout the story, other than to satisfy the filmmaker’s needs for some hoary jump scares of course? And sure, kids in this franchise are turned by Baghuul into family killers, but how exactly does a 12-year-old boy become an expert carpenter and create three crucifix crosses strong enough to hold adults? That may seem like niggling, but a whole host of questions and plot problems fill every second of this movie and those questions build and build. The illogic and silliness at every turn bogs down any potential for true escapism.
It may be unfair to hold the actors to the Hawke standard as well, but suffice it to say that no one here does great work, though you can see Ramone and Sossamon trying. They huff and puff, trying to put some tension and energy into dialogue that is supposed to be either sexy or frightening, but is neither.
Director Ciaran Foy has done better elsewhere, as have screenwriters Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. In fact, Derrickson wrote and directed the original “Sinister” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, two very good horror entries, so why is this one so off? He would’ve been wiser leaving the goofy deputy character completely out of this effort. And he should have kept the child ghosts’ screen time to a minimum. The chattier they become, the less mysterious they are. But then again the real mystery here is why smart filmmakers let this one turn out to be such a misguided follow-up to their sharp first film. This one puts far too many sins in “Sinister.” And not in a good way.