Modern film-making has made it very tough to hold on to love for original material. Forget what American Ultra writer Max Landis said (review coming this week), there’s still a market for original films in that studios can’t wait to make inferior sequels. This is a phenomenon that is currently peaking with such playful and entirely unnecessary releases of Ted 2, Terminator: Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, Minions, Vacation, and now, Sinister 2.
It’s tough to debate, especially if viewed with an open mind and in the right setting, that Sinister is one of the scariest and best modern horror films. It’s powerfully emotional, and with it, very…uhm….sinister. The themes of corrupted children doing the dirty work of a cult(ish) demon is familiar in possession movies, but in the original Sinister so much remains mysterious, including motive and process.
The process, how the villain corrupts the kids, is not important. What is important is that he succeeds, and for some reason, there’s a chain of dead families connected to the houses that they live in. The house itself, because of the demon’s constraints, is haunted, so the family leaves, but it’s only when the family leaves that the demon can do his dirty work, i.e. force one of the kids to murder their family in a grizzly fashion.
Sinister had a real hero, an intelligent true-crime author who was fascinated by a small-town family murder, so he decides to investigate and write his next book about it. His career-based desperation provided legitimacy to the story, and despite getting spooked by what he finds, the film never strays from its point of a once-famous author dealing with his past demons. The author is played by the sturdy and versatile Ethan Hawke, and although he (spoilers) bites it in the first film, the second movie still had story to tell, even if it was a repeated process. There certainly did not need to be a sequel, but enough was left open in the plot-lines that a successful sequel could exist. The route chosen in the real Sinister 2 does not pay homage or respect the original’s guts or tactics, instead succumbing to horror tropes that the original (for the most part) avoided. In fact, Sinister 2 goes so far as to undo the good things done in the original film, it’s a real, real disappointment.
Deputy So and So (James Ransone) from the first film returns, carrying his knowledge of what happened to Ethan Hawke’s family previously with him. He understands the connections between several different murdered families, all done in very unique and graphic ways. His private investigative work leads him to a farm house on the property of a murder done a few months prior. While he is under the impression that the place is vacant, he finds a mother (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two boys (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) on the run from an abusive father/husband (Lea Coco). There, the demon, Bughuul, begins the attempt to corrupt one of the boys and have him murder his family.
Like the original, the ideas are planted through the use of a media tool, a series of snuff films that capture young children killing those closest to them. This time, though, the film’s excuse to show them, is much less legitimate. Rather than have a true-crime investigation, this time, the film uses Bughuul’s tactic of nightmares to persuade the kid downstairs to the basement to watch another film. Bughuul himself is much more of a hands-off villain than expected, rather, it’s his former victims, the surviving children, who coerce the boys into watching the snuff films. The found-footage captures the murders, presumably to put the ideas of the same kind of torture and murder for the living child to eventually execute. Even once the kid is clearly freaked out, and upset that he’s seeing ghost children every night, the movie has no way to continue to present the films, so they come up with a contrivance that viewing the videos makes his nightmares stop. He watches a few families get executed, then he can sleep soundly…Right….
The most clear departure is the focus on the dead children, now ghosts, because it seems that the demon, Bughuul, is not actually doing any of the corrupting. We assumed after the first movie that he was really nastily pulling strings, but here, his main purpose seems to be playing cat-and-mouse games with the deputy character, no longer following his normal lineage. He becomes a stalker/slasher character as opposed to the mythical baddie of the first film. By making him sterile, and relying on the children to move the plot, the film’s momentum just dies. The found footage films are now grossly exaggerated and not scary, and the actual mythology is stripped of its potency when it’s not even Bughuul as the main villain. This film was a complete mess.