High-quality horror films seem to be a rarity these days. Some may even say the genre has been dead for years. Yet from time to time, a scary movie comes around and proves that there is still a place in the world for chills and thrills. That fear is still a viable subject for filmmakers to explore. Back in 2012, Scott Derrickson’s Sinister was that breath of fresh air. With its nerve-wracking tension, somber atmosphere and haunting imagery, the picture brought much-needed credibility to supernatural horror, and even caught the attention of Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige, who eventually hired Derrickson to take on the forthcoming big-screen adaptation of Doctor Strange. Because of the critical and commercial success, a sequel of course was inevitable, and so 3 years later we now have Sinister 2; a feature that most of us would consider completely unnecessary. But here it is, ready to try and repeat the formula of its predecessor.
The story picks up not too long after the events in the first film. The deputy who helped Ethan Hawke’s character is now the main focus, as he seeks to find and burn down all the remaining houses that Bughuul and his children haunt. However, trouble ensues when he comes across an old farm house inhabited by a single mom and her two boys, who are on the run from an abusive father and husband. The brothers then start having strange visions of children, who try to persuade them to kill their family. Now it’s just a matter of time before it actually happens.
Just to be clear, this movies comes nowhere near the ingenuity of the original. It’s not even half as good. The plot is riddled with clichéd writing, the terror is much more direct than subtle, and the horror relies too heavily on jump scares and screechy noises. Even the famous kill-tapes are now so elaborate, albeit still visually cool, that it’s insanely hard to believe that any kid would’ve been able to arrange such gruesome scenery. That being said, I wasn’t slamming myself on the forehead while watching it. Neither did I feel compelled to leave the theatre and go jump in a lake to wash off the whole experience. Enough was happening to keep me engaged, even if most of it was blatantly obvious and twistless. It’s the kind of lukewarm spook-fest that isn’t particularly scary, but contains just enough creepiness to keep it from sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
Considering how many soulless pieces of horror trash the industry pumps out these days, I find it hard not to give a little credit to the filmmakers of Sinister 2. Because despite being very dry and uneventful, the creators at least have the decency to try and make us care about what’s going on, instead of completely ignoring us. The actors are really giving it their all here, and especially the kids have a very natural sensibility to the way they interact with one another. In addition to that, Derrickson’s screenplay, as flawed as it is, does attempt to build relationships that we as an audience can latch onto, understand, and on some level care about. Had the movie been a full-blown drama about a broken family, they might actually have had a hit on their hands.
All too often are scary movies calculated and pre-packaged to stimulate impulse rather than intellect. As long as we jump in our seats and pay for the ticket, the studios don’t care about characters and our interest in them. And although I’m not saying this is a smart and subversive genre-film, I do admire that it shapes the plot around the people, not the other way around. Sure, it may be the lesser of many evils out there right now. But as much as it fails to live up to what came before it, there is always a sense throughout that someone somewhere truly believed in it, even if the studio pressure ultimately compressed it into a sloppy, derived and predictable middle-of-the-road discount product. It may not be a very good film, but it really feels like it wants to be.