The scariest moment in Sinister 2 doesn’t involve the Boogeyman, but rather an abusive father who stuffs a fistful of mashed potatoes in his young son’s mouth while screaming at him to eat his dinner.
That isn’t a knock on the film. Roughly half of this horror sequel is an entirely effective Radio Flyer-esque domestic drama, a notch or two above your typical Lifetime movie of the week, about a single mother’s attempts to protect her children from her violent husband.
The mother, Courtney Collins, is played by Shannyn Sossamon with more conviction than a movie like this usually gets. In the film’s opening scene, she rushes her two sons Dylan and Zach (played by real-life brothers Robert Daniel and Dartanian Sloan) out of a supermarket after spotting a private eye hired by her husband.
Courtney has temporary custody of the kids, but the father, Clint, has money and friends in high places and a fervent desire to get his family back. In another effective scene, two of his cop friends show up at her front door and attempt to take the kids by force.
To get away from Clint, Courtney has taken up residence in an isolated, abandoned farmhouse owned by her friend. There, she becomes fast friends with a former cop (James Ransone) who might be able to help her and the kids.
All of this stuff works quite well – and Ransone, along with Sossamon, is excellent. He’s a character actor who has had bit parts in films like Oldboy and The Next Three Days (and a larger role in HBO’s Generation Kill), but here he’s quirky, engaging presence who manages to create a likable and fully fleshed-out character from a bit part in the previous movie.
But Sinister 2, as you might guess from the title, poster, trailer, and every other bit of information about the movie, is not really a domestic drama. It’s a supernatural horror film. And on that level, it’s a disaster.
Fear is in the unknown. The first film worked as well as it did because it gave us a creepy, unexplained premise – Ethan Hawke’s writer finds a box of what appears to be snuff films in the attic of his new home – and strings us along to the finale. By the end, as expected, it loses its power as it explains everything. But until then it’s a supremely unsettling ride (with some unforgettable imagery – that lawnmower scene is still etched in my mind).
In Sinister 2, meanwhile, we’re in the know from the very beginning. In the isolated farmhouse, young Dylan is visited by ghosts who show him the home videos-cum-murder films in an attempt to get him to slay his family and continue the Boogeyman curse. The Boogeyman, or Bughuul, got too much screen time at the end of the first film, and here he’s present throughout.
Ransone’s ex-cop, credited as ‘Ex-Detective So-and-So’ has been tracking down the murder houses since leaving the force, and burning them down in an effort to stop the curse. When he shows up at the farmhouse, not only does he need to save the family from Bughuul, but also the violent father who’s far more terrifying than the Boogeyman.
Outside of a few jump scares, Sinister 2 is so busy explaining plot mechanics that it never becomes remotely frightening. Bughuul is just a dude in a suit, the snuff films are tired retreads of what we saw in the first movie, and the finale turns laughable. The closest this movie comes to real scare is a brief Norwegian broadcast over HAM radio.
But the stuff with the father is unsettling in an entirely different way. Half of this movie does work – it’s just not the half that fans of the first film are expecting.