Silver Screen: Sinister II 1/2*
Horror-movie sequels are losing propositions. With few exceptions, the followup to a good horror movie must sacrifice its scariest asset: the unknown.
The surprisingly effective 2012 ghost story Sinister hinged on mystery. A struggling writer (played by Ethan Hawke) finds a box of home movies in his attic that turn out to be footage of grisly murders. Entire families are slain simultaneously in elaborate, gruesome tableaux. Our troubled hero hopes to uncover the identity of the killer as fodder for his next book, but he learns all too late— as in, right at the end of the movie— that a young child in each of the videotaped families has been possessed by a demon. Unfortunately, he doesn’t find this out quite in time to check on his own kids.
Freaky stuff, made all the freakier by not knowing the source of the spooky tapes. Sinister II, a sorely unnecessary sequel with new director and cast, opens the game with all its cards on the table. We know there’s a demon, Bughuul, and that he’s looking for a new family to torment. Having established this premise early, director Ciaran Foy introduces us to a new family, then spends eighty or so minutes waiting around for the inevitable.
And what a tedious wait it is. It doesn’t help that the family is almost too dull to bother murdering. Single mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) is on the lam with her two almost indistinguishable boys, Dylan and Zach (real-life brothers Robert and Dartanian Sloan). She’s hiding out with them in a dilapidated farmhouse to avoid her cartoonishly villainous husband (Lea Coco), an abusive cop. While the family is sequestered at the farmhouse— which is alternately very difficult and extremely easy to find, depending on what the plot demands— one of the boys stumbles on a chest of old videotapes. The ghostly apparitions of Bughuul’s killer kiddie victims appear and force him to watch the movies to prepare for the massacre their master has planned.
Which boy watches the movies? Probably Dylan, who’s supposed to be the sensitive one. But it’s hard to tell. The characters are written so generically as to be interchangeable, an error only compounded by casting two nearly identical-looking brothers close in age.
The only thing to keep your attention here is the goofball charm of James Ransone, the overqualified character actor from The Wire and Generation Kill. He’s the lone holdover from the original film, where he appeared for a brief bit of comic relief as a character so inconsequential he remains overtly unnamed (his character is credited as “Detective So and So”).
Old So and So is back, traumatized— and fired from the police force— after the events of the first movie. He’s now determined to track down and destroy any trace of Bughuul’s influence, which leads him to the farmhouse and into domestic drama.
Ransone plays the deputy as a good-natured doofus eager to do the right thing even when he knows he’s unlikely to succeed. His aw-shucks bumbling might be dissonant in an otherwise airless movie about children murdering their parents and siblings, but instead it serves as a blessed distraction from the programmatic, self-consciously grim horror tropes.
Screenwriters Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill make no effort to expand on the mythology they created in Sinister. Instead they stuff a few callbacks to the original into an otherwise stock horror setup, barely even attempting anything like a twist to subvert expectations. It’s hard to imagine this looking like anything other than a hasty, slapdash sequel on paper. Foy’s no-style approach adds nothing to the mix, as evidenced by his reliance on the cheapest jump-scares and sound cues to juice up an otherwise listless enterprise.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.