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Movie Review: “Sinister 2”

James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan
Ciarán Foy

Director Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” remains a chilling movie. It’s a quietly effective horror film that’s anchored by a solid lead performance from Ethan Hawke. Though Derrickson has returned for “Sinister 2,” it’s not behind the camera, but rather as a screenwriter alongside his co-writer from the first film, C. Robert Cargill. Taking over helming duties instead is Irish-born director Ciarán Foy (“Citadel”), and although his sequel doesn’t reach the bar set by its predecessor, it comes close at times.

Deputy So & So (James Ransone) is haunted by the events from the first film, believing he could’ve done more to help Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) and his family. No longer an active deputy, So & So now spends his time tracking down the evil spirit Bughuul. He’s dedicated his life to preventing the demon from harming more families, which brings him to Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and her 9-year-old twins, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), who could potentially be Bughuul’s next victims. On the run from the law and her sons’ abusive father, Courtney hides away in an abandoned house, unaware that it’s haunted, which prompts Bughuul and his pack of possessed kids to lure the boys in by showing them 8mm films of grisly killings.

Much like the first movie, the 8mm footage is truly unsettling, except it’s lacking this time around. Part of the reason why the footage was so horrific in “Sinister” was because we were experiencing it from the point of view of a flawed, human and believable protagonist. We weren’t just watching seemingly senseless murders; we were also seeing the toll it was taking on Ellison. Those 8mm films played a role in his arc, as he was so obsessed in regaining his success as an author that he continued watching the murders. In the case of the sequel, the 8mm films don’t serve as substantial of a purpose, and they’re not pleasant in the way they’re probably intended to be. Since the footage doesn’t carry the same weight as they did in the first movie, it becomes a little tiresome watching people killed over and over again.

This is the kind of sequel that unfortunately does check boxes. Audiences now have more expectations for what they want from a “Sinister” film or Blumhouse production, and sometimes Foy delivers just that. But while the first movie was fresh and relied more heavily on mood for its scares, its sequel has plenty of jump scares and, of course, the typical ending that pulls the rug out from under the audience. It’s not really a spoiler to say that it’s a “Gotcha!” moment, because that’s what most horror films go for nowadays, but it’s a shame, because the third act goes to some intense and often ballsy places until that final minute of the film, when the screenwriters revert back to a formula.

“Sinister 2” is frustrating, because it has plenty going for it. Foy builds some unnerving tension; Sossamon is, as is almost always the case, radiant and a pure joy to watch; and the third act goes to some surprising places. There’s a domestic abuse subplot that easily could have come off as distasteful, but Foy depicts it as being almost as horrific as the 8mm films themselves. Does it feel a little out of place for a horror movie with plenty of cheap jump scares? Yes, but Foy and the screenwriters don’t sugarcoat the terror of Courtney and the boys’ situation. In general, though, “Sinister 2” often struggles to deliver consistent scares and engaging drama.