The only good thing about Sinister was Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of a writer having what looked like a mental breakdown, to the degree that it was easy to suspect that perhaps he was the perpetrator of the family murder he was investigating for a true-crime book. Before that film was half over, however, such a potentially intriguing scenario was rendered impossible, and Sinister became yet another by-the-numbers demon-haunted funhouse. And here’s Sinister 2, which doesn’t have anything so minimally compelling going for it.
Another family has been targeted for ritual killings by the devil Bhughul, which is just a fancy name for the Boogeyman, and he’s precisely as generic as that sounds. This time it’s Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Rules of Attraction), on the run from an abusive husband with her two grade-school sons (Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan), one of whom is being seduced by Bhughul into family homicide. Though not if the unnamed sheriff’s deputy from Sinister (James Ransone: Broken City, The Next Three Days) has anything to do with it: he is on the trail of Bhughul and trying to stop the killings.
Where returning screenwriters Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us from Evil, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and C. Robert Cargill take their concept of possessed children making snuff films of the murders of their parents and siblings descends into the repulsive this time. The “home movies” are far more graphic and gruesome. The appearance of Courtney’s abusive husband (Lea Coco: J. Edgar), drawn back into the demon-targeted family, appears to suggest that some people deserve to die at the hands of a demon, which even if you believe that undercuts the urgency of the premise and throws doubt on everything: are we supposed to be rooting for the jerk husband’s terrible murder, and if so, who else who was killed deserved it? Worst of all, particularly for fans of the genre and those who understand the difference between fantasy and reality, there’s a subtle undercurrent that hints that horror movies themselves are manifestations of actual evil.
Now, I don’t believe that any of these issues are deliberate constructions of the film but rather emergent properties of a story that is disjointed and incohesive. In trying to ram together very different stories — one about a demon, and one about an abused family — Sinister 2 ends up psychologically ridiculous.
We can also blame new director Ciarán Foy, whose ideas about what is scary onscreen are dull and aimless. Foy is yet another indie filmmaker — he made the flawed but promising Citadel — seduced by Hollywood, who then is either forced to or happily agrees to throw away what made his indie work interesting. Perhaps Bhughul, who persuades innocents to commit awful crimes, is a metaphor for Hollywood.