In 2012, writer-director Scott Derrickson struck (mainstream) horror movie gold with Sinister, a dark, brooding, slow burner loaded with jump scares that introduced audiences to a brand new, wannabe Horror Icon in the form of evil spirit Bagul. The flick was a hit, banking nearly $50 million worldwide to date off a paltry budget of around $3 million. Although mainstream audiences squealed over it, horror fans were divided. Some saw the movie as an old-school chiller, others a predictable, jump scare laden bore. Now, just three years later, the seemingly unstoppable Blumhouse have gifted us with Sinister 2.
The follow up is scripted again by series creator Scott Derrickson, it’s helmed by the least likely man for the job, Irish director Ciarán Foy. Foy clearly knows his way around a taut, tense sequence, judging by his impressive début Citadel. But he still seems a strange choice to take on the myth of Bagul. However, given the unlikely Peyton Reed’s success with Ant-Man earlier this year, perhaps the oddest person can often be the best fit.
Whether you’re a fan of Sinister or not, there’s no doubt Foy has left his mark on the sequel. Although the movie only sort of works, there are bursts of brilliance that recall his impressive début. There’s an old-time chilliness to the proceedings this time around, offset by key moments of breathtaking violence that, funnily enough, do not take place in the spooky Super-8 footage that made the first movie such a talking point (and is once again here).
The premise this time around sees single mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) struggling to maintain a normal life in the country, in the shadow of a great tragedy that occurred just a few feet from their new family home, with her two sons Dylan and Zach (played by real-life brothers Robert-Daniel and Dartanian Sloan). Meanwhile, now Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone), who escaped Bagul the first time around, is back to solve the case following the deaths of the Oswalt family.
In fact, even though we were promised more Bagul, the most shocking moments in the sequel don’t even feature the demon. Both include sustained, unprovoked violence and involve poor Dylan, clearly the more meek of the two brothers and the object of Bagul’s, and his weird, zombie-kid cronies’, affection. The tension comes not from wondering when Bagul is going to pounce, but when Dylan is going to snap and turn on those closest to him.
Sinister drew its tension from keeping us guessing as to who Bagul was really after. Since we know now that he feeds off children, Sinister 2 leaves most of the communicating to his past victims, who lure Dylan to the basement and force him to watch rickety reels of their kills. This is a method that works, for the most part, thanks to the nastiness of the footage (the murders are more gruesome this time around, with one sequence in a church leaving a particularly horrifying mark).
However, the kids’ performances are perfunctory at best, hammy at worst, with the ringleader–a ghostly pale chap, dressed in his Sunday best throughout–seemingly auditioning to be the next Vincent Price. The boy’s eyebrows do most of the acting and whose ghoulish admissions are more likely to provoke laughs than fear. This poor fellow, making his feature début, is clearly having the time of his life, but he’s pitched himself about ten octaves higher than everyone else, and he hunches forward, hair-in-face, Samara-style.
The other issue is with Bagul himself. It’s obvious why the focus is on the kids this time, but in doing so, much of the demon’s mystique is removed. He still pops up here and there, lurking in the background like he’s in a Slipknot video (though he does, at the very least, seem to be modeled more on Mick Thompson than Jim Root this time around, suggesting some evolution). There are also a handful of decent jump scares, for which he is responsible, but he’s more of a ghost than a real threat.
Sinister 2 does its very best to build up Bagul’s mythology, with the ex-Deputy visiting a colleague of Jonas’, from the first film, and discussing the demon’s back-story at length. Unfortunately, this sequence is the most exposition-heavy of the entire movie and it doesn’t advance the story in any real way, aside from telling us what we already know: The demon communicates through home movies.
Bagul simply isn’t that good of a villain, and his powers are never made clear enough for us to really fear him. As it turns out, the real villains this time around are Dylan’s own family members. Much like in Joe Dante’s thrilling kids’ movie The Hole, the father is the real monster here, and Zach isn’t far off. This creates an interesting juxtaposition between Bagul and his kids, and the two men in Dylan’s life whose depths of depravity, were it not for the looming shadow of Bagul, could have been plumbed much further.
Related: Not Quite Horror: The Hole (2009)
It’s not all bad, of course. Foy knows how to stage a spooky scene and his vision is backed up by Amy Vincent’s often-stunning cinematography, which gives the movie a classic, gritty feel. The Sloan brothers are both strong in two very different but equally challenging roles. Likewise, the likeable Sossaman does a great job as the strong, single mother who just can’t seem to catch a break.
However, Ransone, who essentially steps into Ethan Hawke’s shoes following his bit-part in the first movie, steals the show. Injecting the movie with some much-needed humour, none of which feels forced, his do-gooder ex-cop is the perfect foil for both Bagul and Courtney’s hideous ex, as well as being a much-needed confidante for the tortured Dylan. It’s hard to imagine the movie working at all without him, and the irritating final jump scare (echoing that of the first film) does him a great disservice.
When it comes down to it, Sinister 2 is not a bad horror movie by any means. It’s certainly not the worst we will see this year (we’ve still got Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension to look forward to) but, at the same time, it’s not anything to write home about either. Not nearly special, or even scary, enough to justify its existence, it neither furthers Bagul’s back-story nor does anything new with the character.
The movie is saved by a stellar lead performance from James Ransone and its often cheap scares are elevated by an interesting twist on the typical family-in-peril premise. There are some creepy moments, most of which aren’t completely predictable, and Foy should be commended for at least trying to do something new with a set-up that already felt stale the first time around.
It’s unlikely that Sinister 2 is going to convert those who felt the first movie was a bit dull and derivative. Neither offensive enough to argue about, nor boring enough to completely disregard, for Friday night shocks, it does the job.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Ciarán Foy
Writer(s): Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Stars: James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan
Studio/ Production Co: Blumhouse
Length: 97 minutes