Sadly, “Sinister 2” validates the age-old rule that sequels pale by comparison with their predecessors. Although occasionally atmospheric and marginally creepy, “Sinister 2” (* out of ****) won’t prompt you to sleep with your lights on, trouble you with nightmares, or send you off to counseling. Of course, if you didn’t see the original “Sinister” (2012), you won’t know why the latter was so good while the former abysmal. Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, the pair who penned “Sinister,” scripted the lackluster sequel. The problem is “Sinister 2” simply isn’t half as sinister as the original. Basically, “Sinister” packaged its plot around an anthology of Super 8mm snuff movies that a true-life crime author discovered in the attic of the house that he had bought to revive his declining career. Little did he know that this house was haunted. The cinematic horror in some of those home movies proved bizarre enough to make your skin crawl. Nonetheless, the safety value of modern horror is that everything was depicted with such outrageous abandon that you felt uneasy but never entirely queasy. Now, spectators who don’t appreciate horror movies as an art form would probably label “Sinister” and “Sinister 2” both decadent and repellent. Keep in mind that “Citadel” director Ciarán Foy shows us nothing remotely gruesome in this 97-minute, R-rated chiller. Indeed, your imagination fills in the gaps because “Sinister 2” doesn’t dare show us what really would happen without running the risk of an NC-17 rating. The snuff movies in “Sinister 2” aren’t quite as diabolical. In “Sinister 2,” the best of the snuff movies dealt with three helpless humans hanging by their heels like live bait above an alligator infested river. Predictably, a gluttonous gator shows up and snacks on one of the victims. Ultimately, “Sinister 2” suffers because no single character significantly dramatic enough replaces the Ethan Hawke protagonist from the first film.
The “Sinister” boogeyman–a cadaverous ghoul named Bughuul (Nicholas King of “Max Keeble’s Big Move”)–returns with more unsavory shenanigans. Dressed from head to foot in black, this menacing supernatural demon resembles Tommy Wiseau, and he descends into rural Illinois to wreak havoc on a group of children that lived in and around an old church. These children have established contact with two 9-year old boys, Dylan and Zach Collins (real-life brothers, Robert and Dartanian Sloan), who are hiding out in an old house with their single mom, Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon of “Wristcutters: A Love Story”) where she is restoring antique furniture. Courtney has fled from her abusive husband, wealthy local businessman Clint Collins (Lea Coco of “J. Edgar”), and she is struggling to raise their two sons. Clint traumatized his wife, beating up not only Courtney but also hitting young Dylan so hard that he wound up in the emergency room. Later, Courtney convinced a friend who owns the property adjacent to an abandoned church to let them live there until she can find somewhere else to go. She has been running from Clint and dodging Clint’s hired hands who have been following her no matter where she went. Meantime, the evil dead children that visit Dylan after dark lure him into the basement of the old house and show him 16mm reels that they have made about their own families that they murdered in cold blood.
Meanwhile, the former deputy sheriff in the original “Sinister” (James Ransome of “Empire State”), who tried to help Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) with his research, has lost his job because he shared confidential information. Now, the ex-deputy has embarked on a crusade to battle Bughuul by burning down the buildings that the ghoul has haunted. He refers to this as breaking the chain of evil. When “Sinister 2” opens, the ex-deputy has been in touch with real estate agents about the house near the church where Courtney has been hiding from her estranged husband. He plans to burn the building down when he encounters Courtney. Courtney and he get acquainted when he spends the night with her at the house. No, they don’t forge a romantic relationship. Later, Clint surprises Courtney and the ex-deputy, arriving with the local authorities, in a futile showdown to induce his wife to hand Dylan and Zach over to him. The ex-deputy intervenes on Courtney’s behalf, and the local yokels back down. Throughout this marriage squabble, Dylan has been watching murderous home movie reels with the dead children but he hates them. Dylan’s brother Zach grows jealous because the dead kids chose Dylan over him. Eventually, the dead kids turn to Zach.
The biggest problem that “Sinister 2” suffers from is the absence of a strong central character, like Ethan Hawke’s writer in the original, to dramatically anchor the storyline. Scenarists Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill have entrusted these duties to James Ransome’s former deputy sheriff. Nevertheless, Ransome still conducts himself like a weak supporting character rather than a compelling protagonist. Furthermore, Derrickson and Cargill haven’t assigned a name to Ransome’s character. Moreover, he remains largely ineffectual when he comes to matching fists with Clint and wits with the intimidating Bughuul. Sadly, Bughuul makes what constitutes fleeting appearances as the spectral villain who controls the dead kids. Bughuul terrorizes Ex-Deputy So & So when the latter explores the deconsecrated church where a boy, Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann) murdered his family during a medieval ritual involving the use of live rats trapped beneath buckets strapped atop to several bodies nailed to the sanctuary floor. Fiery coals were heaped atop the buckets so that the heat prompted the rats to gnaw their way to freedom by burrowing through the bodies of the tied down victims. Clearly, implausible plotting and convoluted predicaments are two other problems that afflict this contrived chiller. Inexplicably, Derrickson and Cargill have set their sequel in a corn field where the dead kids terrorize Dylan and Zach, in an obvious homage to the Stephen King thriller “Children of the Corn.” Altogether, “Sinister 2” amounts to an uninspired sequel.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts