'Sinister 2' takes things in a warmer, more somber direction, with mixed but surprising results
Sinister 2 Gramercy Pictures
Director: Ciarán Foy
Screenplay: Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
Starring: James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lucas Jade Zumman, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington and John Beasley
Rated R / 1 hour, 37 minutes
(out of four)
It would not be unfair to say that Sinister 2 fails as horror, but still kinda works as a movie. This is not, I don't think, a contradiction. I realize, yes, this is a horror film, and it's never scary*, and as such it presumably did not accomplish its primary goal. In truth, this might all depend on how rigid your definition of horror is, or what your requirements are. I guess, for me, that's all pretty fungible.
* It's occasionally tense and unnverving - mostly on an emotional level - which are good things for a horror movie to be. But it really doesn't spend a lot of time, either narratively or atmospherically, establishing its horror-movie bona fides. Which may or may not be a good thing.
The movie succeeds, to the extent that it does, as an only-slightly-spooky family drama, and as a more straightforward mystery. Those two elements - a single (well, estranged) mom trying to protect her young sons; a former cop hanging around trying to solve a mystery directly related to the house where that family has just moved in - meet in the middle, both specifically concerned with warding off the same evil, but from different angles.
More often than not, the film itself seems to be holding its horror-specific qualities at bay. I think it knows where its strengths are, and being scary isn't one of them. The lack of terror is a bit curious considering it's the sophomore effort of director Ciarán Foy, whose feature-length debut - 2012's bleak and despairing Citadel - is an underseen gem. One of that film's strengths was its frightening atmosphere, which Foy imbued with a feeling of empty, uncompromising doom. There are moments in it that are almost suffocating.
There's not much of that here, but he does turn a wobbly script into a nice pairing between tense family drama and amateur-gumshoe mystery.
Shannyn Sossamon (who, quite without my realizing it, has apparently been graduated into middle-aged mom roles) leads the former, as a mother trying to protect her two boys from their abusive father - who just so happens to come from a family with the resources to find her, no matter how far she runs. It's just bad luck that the house she found was the scene of one of a number of grisly mass murders perpetrated by the demonic figure "Bughuul," who uses children as his proxy.
And that's where the other half of the narrative comes in. The sequel's one returning central character, the still-unnamed Deputy So & So (James Ransone), has become obsessed with the series of murders tied to Bughuul, and is going around the country burning down the houses where the crimes took place. He was planning on doing the same with this house, but the unexpected presence of Courtney (Sossamon) and her sons complicates matters. Not only can he not cleanse the property, but he can't move them out, either. (It's a technical Bughuul mythology thing, you wouldn't understand.) And as we soon discover, Bughuul has already got his hooks into Courtney's sons - well, one of them, anyway.
Where Sinister 2 falls short by the traditional expectations of horror, it makes up for with its gentle handling of the various relationships in play. The warmth between Courtney and her kids. The protectiveness and disjointed rivalry between the boys themselves, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan). And then, inevitably, there's Courtney and the kind-hearted Deputy. She takes to him quickly, and eventually welcomes him into her bed - which, if nothing else, plays as a lovely and cathartic response to the crippling loneliness that has likely followed her during her time on the run, always in hiding, always on guard, always expecting her violent ex to arrive at the front door.
As its predecessor did, Sinister 2 utilizes the creation and consumption of art as the conduit for evil - it's Bughuul's method of grooming - so there's a meta-textual value built into the premise. Yes, it's thematic set dressing more than anything, but it also provides the movie with some of its only real chills. Your mileage may vary on the overall result here. Me, I found the underwhelming genre elements mitigated by the way Foy treats the story as an actual drama, and gets strong, sensitive performances out of both Sossamon and Ransone, The genre classification is the film's biggest enemy. Let's call it a family drama instead. In that light, the peripheral horror is just a little extra flavor.