An old house, precocious children, ghosts, and a troubled past haunting a family. At first glance and on paper, Ciarán Foy’s Sinister 2, the haphazard and poorly written sequel to the focused and contrastingly minimal horror flick Sinister (2012), has all the usual genre trappings to add up to a functional horror film. Yet, when such currencies are carelessly overspent and rushed through, the effect can be numbing instead of frightening. Such is the case with Sinister 2, co-written by C. Robert Cargill and the director of the series’ previous installment, Scott Derrickson. The film randomly sprinkles genre elements over a convoluted story (which takes too long to take shape) and hopes to find a target. This hinders Sinister 2 in frustrating and puzzling ways. Unfortunately, the consistently mild jump scares and half-hearted spook tactics don’t help its cause either, and wastes the marvelous performances of a group of talented child actors along the way.
Sinister 2 takes place months, maybe years, after the events of the first film, in which an obsessive crime novelist (Ethan Hawke) goes off the deep end while trying to reclaim his glory as a writer, leading us through an unsettling Shining-esque story with a twist. Unlike its efficient predecessor, Sinister 2 introduces us to a number of parallel plotlines and to its credit, provokes a sense of curiosity in the viewer, which unfortunately becomes tiresome. We greet the (now former) deputy officer of the first Sinister, Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone), whose mission is to burn and destroy houses where murders initiated by the demonic Bughuul take place.
We then meet a young mother—Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon)—with her two sons Zach (Dartanian Sloan) and Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) as they shop in the maze-like aisles of a supermarket, clearly being stalked by someone. Following a well-played sequence, we learn that Courtney is on the run from her abusive husband and has found refuge in an old house with the help of a real-estate friend. Of course, the house has a murderous past. Yet her problems don’t stop there. Completely unbeknownst to Courtney, her son Dylan can see dead people, all of whom make him watch their home movies, which feature their gruesome murders of their entire families. The horrific killing methods range from feeding live family members to alligators to burying them alive in snow (and I’m sparing some of the worst examples). Later on, we find out Zach can see these kids as well and grows increasingly jealous and irritable for not being the primary attention of the clan.
Storylines eventually connect and characters’ real intentions start presenting themselves, but because the writers didn’t bother beefing up the stakes of the story, it’s hard to continue caring. Despite Ransone’s semi-convincing performance, which helps highlight his character’s insecurities and geekiness, the ex-deputy’s initial obsession to confront the past doesn’t feel believable. Scenes that take place in the house basement, which offer ripe moments for suspense-building, never quite reach their horror potential. And when Sinister finally decides to tap into more frightening possibilities with the kids, its nod to a memorable scene from The Orphanage diminishes the shock value. The laughable finale shamelessly parades its obviousness as a twist, and by this point, nothing comes as a surprise.
The most remarkable thing about Sinister 2 are the homemade short films themselves. They frighten as standalone, nightmarish crime episodes. It’s possible to find some appeal here, but the overstuffed Sinister 2 has simply too much cheapness on its plate.
1.5 stars out of 4