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After co-writing and directing 2012’s Sinister, horror helmer Scott Derrickson takes more of a backseat on the follow-up, which turns out to be less of a sequel and more of a spinoff from the original. Also lacking star Ethan Hawke, Sinister 2 comes up a bit short on creative resources, although director Ciaran Foy probably gets enough right to entice those partial to the original.
In the wake of the murder of Sinister’s true-crime author Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) and his family, Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill’s script finds that the cop formerly known as Deputy So & So (James Ransone) has opted for private investigator status, attempting to pick up where Oswalt left off in a bid to solve an ongoing series of mysterious murders. The hideous crimes, ultimately numbering more than a half-dozen and each sadistically filmed with a handheld Super 8 movie camera, have all involved the carefully planned execution of entire families by extreme methods that include hanging, drowning and incineration. In each case, one child from each family has disappeared, a mystery that Oswalt had connected to possession by an ancient entity known as “Bughuul” (Nick King) a long-haired demon with a skeletal, pasty-white face.
Following up on Oswalt’s research, So & So has identified a decrepit Illinois farm, the scene of another grisly killing, as part of a self-reinforcing network of murder sites that continues generating mayhem, all under the influence of Bughuul. Planning to burn down the farmhouse and an adjacent church where the deaths occurred, So & So finds the property unexpectedly occupied by single mom Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her nine-year-old twin boys Dylan (Robert Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan). Attempting to evade her abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco), Courtney may have inadvertently risked exposing her kids to Bughuul instead, a miscalculation that only So & So has the expertise to investigate.
Anyone who saw Sinister will know why So & So is concerned for the safety of Courtney and her kids, far beyond the threat posed by her violent spouse. Derrickson and Cargill’s script doesn’t recap much of the previous film though, so when the “ghost kids,” a spectral group of children spirited away by Bughuul, appear to Dylan and begin showing him new episodes of the same type of horrific silent movies that drove Oswalt around the bend, not everyone may be up to speed with the implications of their visitations. Or perhaps they’ll be wondering how so many distinctively planned multiple murders could have taken place over several decades across two states without attracting more significant law enforcement attention.
So & So is focused on more immediate threats, however, and even if the reasons behind Bughuul’s manifestation at this particular time and his spooky fixation on Dylan remain frustratingly murky, the investigator is determined to confront the mysterious demon. Ransone’s So & So doesn’t make for a particularly compelling PI, but his air of frequent bemusement adds a degree of levity that the original lacked and a brief flirtation with Courtney provides the added motivation he’ll need to protect her and the boys.
Sossamon can’t make much of Courtney’s underwritten part, but nicely sets the stage for the two young actors, as Robert Sloan initially takes the lead with a nuanced performance that aptly conveys Dylan’s escalating dread, before Dartanian Sloan aggressively asserts Zach’s ascendancy in the final act.
Sinister’s unique innovation to the horror genre involved a demon that influenced its victims through the medium of film and the Super 8 “home movies” that depicted each successive family murder were one of its most distinctive features. Citadel director Foy stages similarly authentic re-creations of amateur filmmaking, although he otherwise relies excessively on moody lighting, gotcha scares and Bill Boes’ expertly attuned production design to set the unsettling mood.
Production companies: Blumhouse Productions, Entertainment One
Cast: James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Nick King
Director: Ciaran Foy
Screenwriters: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Producers: Jason Blum, Scott Derrickson
Executive producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Couper Samuelson, Xavier Marchand
Director of photography: Amy Vincent
Production designer: Bill Boes
Costume designer: Stephani Lewis
Editors: Michael Trent, Tim Alverson
Casting directors: Terri Taylor, Claire Simon
Rated R, 97 minutes
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