One of the true hallmarks of a modern horror film is using the past to establish meaningful, and often haunting, context for the events that inevitably transpire. Sinister 2 applies this method on two fronts, tying in the events of the first installment in the franchise (2012’s Sinister into its own plot while continuing the original’s penchant for terrifying snuff films from several previous decades. The sequel picks up a couple of years after the horrifying events that ended the fledgling franchise’s first outing, with the now-former deputy known simply as So & So (with James Ransone reprising his character from the previous film) traveling to the scene of the crime, with the intent to burn down the house and hopefully end the chain of occult murders that he has continued to investigate after being fired from the police force. He’s a little too late, however, as a young child named Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) has already been coerced into watching these brutal killing clips with the demonic children responsible for the murders.
Dylan’s mother, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon), who does restoration work for antique furniture, dotes on him, while his cruel twin brother Zachary (Dartanian Sloan) picks on him, and is jealous of his connection with the undead kids, who also appear to him but clearly prefer Dylan. So & So grows closer to the family as he learns more about the home they’ve inhabited and deals with the reappearance of Courtney’s abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco), while begging them not to leave their house because, as in the first movie, gruesome murders occur after families move away from the property. As Zachary becomes further enraged that his brother is able to develop a connection with the undead and continues to take it out on him, Dylan looks for ways to avoid dealing with the violence he’s seeing, feeling (from his brother and father) and experiencing in his dreams.
Although Sinister 2 has its moments of suspense, they are fleeting. Any scene that doesn’t serve to scare or startle proves to be exceedingly clunky. Bad writing is established as a theme right off the bat, with a glaringly inauthentic confessional scene that appears to be the beginning of an amateur comedy-troupe sketch comprising the film’s opening lines. The dialogue is often either flat or laughable, defined by one part in the script where Courtney drunkenly mutters that she wishes So & So was the father of her children after knowing him for all but a day or two. As a result, the acting is forced and ultra-hammy in order to make the proceedings somehow more compelling, and the subpar script less glaring. Ransone is charismatic and likable enough, but the real testament to his abilities is that he manages to remain that way despite the transparent dialogue and lack of inspired action thrown his way throughout the proceedings. One particular scene involving the former deputy and his current protégé stands out, as the exaggerated acting and flat attempts at levity appear as if they are intended for the preteen Nickelodeon crowd (not the desired audience for a violent thriller). There isn’t a moment of levity or heartfelt statement that is created in this movie without being telegraphed before it happens.
In addition to Ransone, Sossamon’s acting abilities transcend the direction and writing she is provided with here. The compelling music score from tomandandy (a duo consisting of longtime collaborators Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn) may be the movie’s bright spot. If employed in a film worthy of its chilling sound, the score could easily be a key component to a high-quality horror work. The scratchy, foreboding tone manages to be heavily ominous and intimidating without upstaging the action or coming off as viscerally off-putting when juxtaposed with the onscreen happenings.
Sinister 2 clearly lacks the presence of proven dramatic performers like Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio, who elevated the original immensely. It’s unclear, though, how many award-winning stars would have been needed to salvage this cash-grabbing installment, an unworthy add-on to a popular fright film that didn’t need an addendum. Character development simply is not there, a fact driven home by the troubles of Zachary, whose anger and psychological descent is hard to comprehend given that Dylan is the brother who seems to suffer the brunt of their father’s wrath (to go along with his haunting nightmares). For horror fans looking for a true scare, there are many better options available. Ultimately, the lack of smart material and original storyline make this a horror movie that would be most palatable for viewers who are too young to be watching horror films.