I’m going against the tide with Ciarán Foy’s Sinister 2 by saying that it’s an improvement over Scott Derrickson’s much praised (for a horror movie) Sinister (2012). This is not a recommendation exactly, because Sinister 2 still isn’t all that hot. It simply corrects some of the biggest problems with the first film — significant problems at that. The biggest plus this round is that the new film gives us characters worth caring about. The original not only failed on that count, but it gave us a spectacularly clueless “hero” (Ethan Hawke) who, among other things, insists on investigating strange noises and such without bothering to turn on the lights. It can be argued that the charmingly billed Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone) has the advantage of having been in the first film and knowing what the score is, but he’s clearly not someone who is defeated by the use of a light switch. The business of calling the demon Bughuul (Nicholas King) “Mr. Boogie” has also been dropped (though he still looks like post-nosejob Michael Jackson) and Fred Dalton Thompson is nowhere to be seen. Plus factors all.
The problem remains that the whole concept is not only kind of…well, dumb, it’s remarkably limited. What you’re stuck with is this ancient demon turning children into backyard filmmakers who make snuff movies about murdering the rest of their families. What exactly can you do with that other than repeat the process? The new film offers some answers, but they’re not necessarily good. The business of having the ghosts (or whatever they are) of the previous homicidal tykes force their prospective new mark, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan), to watch their directorial efforts isn’t bad, but you’re left with a series of little “creative deaths” movies, which is a lot like watching outtakes from a badly photographed Omen movie. And it doesn’t help that these mini-dramas are rife with cartoonish CGI. (Then again, if a leaping gator decapitating its victims or rats burrowing through people were realistic, it might be considered distasteful.)
I grant that the zombie-ish children are creepy, but a subplot involving sibling rivalry over who — Dylan or his bullying brother Zach (Dartanian Sloane) — should join their ranks adds little but running time. I suspect this is meant to make the film deeper than it is, since it ties into the abusive father (Lea Coco) trying to wrest custody of the kids from their mother, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon, a long, long way from The Rules of Attraction). The problem is that it doesn’t deepen the film significantly. The film, after all, is mostly about being creepy and some jump scares — and it’s pretty effective at both, but in no way special. Strangely, the kids’ films have been upgraded to 16mm — complete with a spring-wound Bolex that Bughuul thoughtfully provides for these bargain-basement DeMilles. Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t change anything, though it makes it harder to believe these movies would be in focus. (It is never explained where Bughuul buys the film or has it processed.) The addition of creepy music via a wind-up gramophone, however, is a nice touch.
Really, the main thing Sinister 2 has going for it lies in the fact that Ex-Deputy So & So, Dylan and Courtney are likable, so it’s possible to build some reasonable suspense around their fates. Now, whether that and a few shudders and jump scares make a trip to the movie worthwhile probably depends on how starved for a new horror movie you are. I’m sticking with what I said about the first one, “Oh, go ahead and see it if you want to.” Further than that I won’t go. Rated R for strong violence, bloody and disturbing images, and language.