A middling effort

by Steve Pulaski

Negative reviews, lukewarm box office predictions, and oversaturated markets be damned; Hollywood will not give up its latest “get rich quick” scheme of making supernatural films for little to no cost to all-but-guarantee an opening weekend haul of more than the production and marketing budget combined. Sinister 2 already arrives during a year that has seen a third chapter of the Insidious franchise, the stylish It Follows, which came out of nowhere and shocked most of its audiences, and the underrated and unfairly bashed Gallows, which, like Sinister 2, is another Blumhouse cheapie.

The original Sinister was a low-key winner, and, even in 2012, was coming at a time when buzz about the next Paranormal Activity sequels were winding down and the genre was beginning to be an annoyance to the general public. Sinister, through assured directing, slowburn suspense, and a gripping, clearly invested performance by Ethan Hawke, was one of the genre’s standouts, proving that the paranormal had some discernible life and potential longevity remaining. With Sinister 2, a film thats existence was inevitable, we’re getting closer to seeing this franchise turn into nothing more than a dime-a-dozen series, but like a malfunctioned guillotine, life and sanctity is spared thanks to a few strong parts.

Sinister 2
Directed by
Ciarán Foy
James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan
Release Date
21 August 2015
Steve’s Grade: C-

We follow Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon), a mother who moves into a home with her two boys, Dylan and Zach (Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan) following the eve of a brutal custody battle with her abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco). What they don’t know, however, is that the home they moved into, a quiet, rural shack in the middle of nowhere, is haunted by the Pagan deity Bughuul, who possesses children to take the lives of those they love while videotaping them before possessing their souls. Bughuul has taken numerous children, seen only as ghosts by similar-aged children, and Zach begins to fall prey to Bughuul’s temptation. Courtney seeks out the care and protection of a former deputy (James Ransone, reprising his role), in order to get information about how to protect her and her children from the paranormal and, most importantly, her husband.

The biggest difficulty Sinister 2 has to overcome is trying to be a horror film in the face of looming drama. With the domestic violence and brutal custody battle coming into play, Sinister 2 is essentially juggling two stories that each need their own level of buildup and structure to be successful. Merging the two subplots creates an unattractive dichotomy that allows for both stories to be at a disservice, for the custody angle can never get the emotional or true substantial focus it deserves and the horror elements can never get the treatment nor the buildup they deserve. The film tries to double-back constantly and work with both stories but, through it all, writers C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson (who penned the original Sinister) can’t seem to recognize the bridge between these two stories is far too long, wobbly, and unstable to sustain effectively.

The standout actor in all this madness is James Ransone, who’s naturalistic presence is sure to go unnoticed amidst all the chaos and the jump scares imbedded in the film’s story. Ransone is incredibly believable, maintaining a composed yet believable character throughout the entire picture, and his occasional bouts of being watchable yet unnervingly eerie echoes that of Jake Gyllenhaal’s ability to balance between both parts. Though my memory is admittedly fuzzy on the original Sinister, I can’t remember Ransone commanding the screen in that film like he does here.

Sinister may lack the thoughtfulness in its setup and the slowburn structure to its story that its predecessor so confidently helmed, however, it does work towards a rather fulfilling climax. The development of Zach’s possession begins to unfold and suspense takes over any distraction the film tried to work with during the final act, though, by then, Sinister 2 has spent a great deal of time developing other affairs that it’s hard to find ourselves truly invested in this sudden shift in focus. This is a film that’s directly in the middle of the road, booned by a terrific performance at its core in addition to a strong climax, but very much crippled by its desire to try and paint two stories at one time. It’s far more commendable than a great deal of throwaway nonsense the genre sees on a regular basis, but it’s also a far cry from stronger, more laudable efforts.