Sinister 2 Review
First of all, I need to start off by saying I hate horror movies.
They’re not scary.
Horror movies today have devolved all too often into a series of predictable jump scares, found footage, and low grade snuff. Like many genres, modern horror films are dominated by sequels and remakes. Tons of them are rated PG-13 to increase their appeal to the teeny demographic, but this is dead give away to me (bad pun, sorry) that the film is more interested in being creepy than truly scary, Seriously, I refuse to watch any PG-13 “horror” film on that simple rule alone.
Which brings us to Sinister 2. Which although a sequel it makes up for it by being rated R.
And to make things even better, the original Sinister was actually a horror film I thoroughly liked.
Released in 2012 and starring, Ethan Hawke, the original Sinister played off the concept of the then popular internet created, Slender Man quite imaginatively. Ellison Oswalt was a best selling true crime writer who had fallen on hard times as his latest books have all failed to crack the best sellers list. Desperate to rejuvenate his career, he moves his family to a new house for a fresh start to work on his latest novel. A house where the previous family were all mysteriously hung and killed in the backyard. A disturbing fact Ellison is knowingly aware of as he attempts to research the unsolved murder while living in the actual scene of the crime. The premise was a smart way to avoid the tired horror film cliche of stuffing victims into a haunted house for no good reason and Ethan Hawke was so so good in the role of the desperate writer who slowly unravels trying to juggle his investigation, book, family, sanity, and the horrible house secret simultaneously. It turns out the murders were the latest in a long string of similar ones where entire families are killed except for a missing child who always end up disappeared without at trace. Ellison learns more about the murders with the help of the dutiful local sheriff’s deputy So-and-So (James Ransone) and through reels of hilariously titled home movies (the films have titles like “Sleepy Time” and “BBQ” that take on a ghastly double meaning once viewed) hidden in his attic showing the gruesome murder of all the previous families.
I go into detail as Sinister 2 is the type of movie that relies strongly on the hopes that you’ve seen the first one.
The original Sinister was smart, well written, genuinely creepy, sometimes funny, surprisingly scary, original, and totally propped up with the strong effort by Ethan Hawke who wonderfully carries the film, and his family’s horrible fate on his small shoulders.
Which brings us to the danger of doing a horror movie sequel. A big part of what makes good horror movies so entertaining is slowly learning the rules and details of the horror as the film progresses. What triggers an attack from the villain for example? Or what can the victims do to fight back? Where can the protagonist’s hide to be safe? Why are they all being killed in the first place? With the rules already firmly established by the first movie horror sequels are left with two avenues of approach. Continue spoon feeding audiences with more of the same that worked the first time like the Paranormal Activity films so shamelessly do, or attempt to reinvent the scary circumstances all over again by diving deeper into the horror’s mythology and lore.
Sinister 2 attempts to go the Paranormal Activity route by making a film incredibly similar to the first one. The problem is, with the original main character dead there isn’t anyone to continue the story with anymore without starting over from scratch. (Another common horror sequel problem actually) But the film dodges this fresh restart by focusing on Deputy So-and-So, (James Ransone) fired from the police force after being found innocent for the death of the Oswalt family in trial. So-and-So has made it his personal mission to burn down every house of a family murdered by the Slender Man in an attempt to break his curse. Families are only targeted once they’ve lived in a house of a previously murdered family and only killed once they leave. Next on his list is an old abandoned farm house that happens to be not so abandoned when So-and-So discovers a runway mom, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two twin boys have taken refuge in the house to escape a powerfully wealthy and abusive dick of a husband. One of the boys starts seeing images of the missing dead children around the property. Like most kids on YouTube these days, the dead children love showing off all their movies of the families they’ve killed and make the boy watch. “Fishing Trip” is the best of them I thought for it’s gratuitous alligator violence. Of course all these sick self absorbed movies give the boy nightmares. Nightmares that can only be stopped when the boy makes a movie of his own.
James Ransone is no Ethan Hawke but he gives a capable and likable performance as the goodie goodie, down on his luck, lovable deputy with the terrible name. His awkwardness provides the films laughs and since he survived the first film he has a leg up on the Slender Man’s antics from the start and does a good job of thwarting him. He also has the best scene in the film, which has nothing to do with horror, when he uses his previous law enforcement background to step up to authority in a big way, winning the audience over along with the lonely mom.
The plot is heavily dependent on being familiar with events of the first film. Ellison Oswalt and his fate are mentioned repeatedly, but viewers new to the franchise have no connection to him besides the name and so the emotional connection falls flat. Eventually the film will explain the rules of it’s horror game all over again without ever really explaining the reasons behind it.
The scares this time around come mostly from the creepy vintage home movies which, except for the alligator one, aren’t as disturbing, or funny, as the previous installments. The Sinister slender man only makes slight appearances, instead taking a back seat to The Ring inspired dead children who are really nothing more than stereotypical schoolyard bullies clad in shades of grey scale. Looking back, the scares come light and few and far between.
One of the smarter parts of Sinister was the dichotomy of Ellison keeping the awful secret of the cursed house from his family while investigating the mystery behind the murders. The side plot this time around is focused on Courtney and her attempt to hide her boys, played by Dylan and Zach Collins, from her prominent contractor prick of a husband. However the the second time around the side story doesn’t entwine as completely as before. It’s used as a convenient excuse to keep Courtney and the boys in the house as events unfold predictably.
And that’s Sinister 2’s main problem. It’s ultimately predictable. The opening shot is from the end of the movie so you’ll immediately have an idea where everything is going from the start. It follows the formula from it’s predecessor a little too closely with only a change of scenery and cast being the real change. The Slender Man is still haunting children. The children keep killing. Those who deserve to, die. And the main characters are unable to stop everything until it’s too late.
Sinister 2 is not a bad movie. As far as horror films go it’s enjoyable enough as a continuation of the solid first entry in what will certainly become a continuing franchise going forward. But as a standalone film, it walks comfortably in the long shadow cast by it’s superior predecessor.