Sinister is not an easy movie to make a sequel to. The original is built entirely around mystery, and that’s part of makes it work so well. We’re totally in the dark alongside Ellison, and we don’t understand much about Baghuul and how he operates until the final act. Sometimes not knowing is a lot scarier than knowing, so now that all has been revealed, can a sequel be remotely as interesting?
Surprisingly, C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson manage to craft a solid followup with Sinister 2, even if the first is a hard act to follow. They understand that merely repeating the formula again would be a waste, so they completely shift perspectives, offer something fresh yet familiar, and best of all, they know exactly when to hold back.
Sinister 2 follows Deputy So & So from the last installment, and yes, that’s still what he’s billed as in the credits. His real name remains unknown. So & So has been completely shaken by the death of Ellison and his family, and now he spends most of his free time trying to track down houses that are in Baghuul’s spooky path of doom.
Meanwhile, the Collins family ends up in one of those aforementioned spooky houses, and So & So begs them not to leave as to avoid continuing the curse. If you’ve forgotten, this series is quite unique in that unlike the majority of haunted house films, where you wonder why they don’t just leave, in these films, moving homes is actually what causes Baghuul’s wrath. The family this time consists of Courtney and her two sons, Dylan and Zach, and these boys are who we spend the majority of our time with.
Whereas the original Sinister focused in on the adult perspective and didn’t reveal the children’s involvement until the third act, this time, Cargill and Derrickson fully explore the terror from the eyes of an innocent child. What’s it like being a kid and having the Boogyman and his minions come after you? How does Mr. Boogie actually get the children to do carry out these acts? Sinister 2 gives us a glimpse into all that, and in this way, it’s an excellent addition to the canon, offering a different point-of-view and not functioning as a simple do-over. Yet although we have a better idea of what the process is like, the movie doesn’t go too far in the direction of explaining Mr. Boogie’s actions.
So no, Sinister 2 doesn’t rely on mystery in the same way that the first did, but that’s totally fine. It’s scary in a different way; The tension derives from the fact that we know what the kids are being lured into, and we know exactly what will happen once they watch all the reels, yet we’re forced to see that play out before our eyes without the adults being aware. So & So is a likable hero, but all of the antics with the children are occurring out right under his nose, and so this time there’s a level of dramatic irony that wasn’t present before. It’s less about solving anything and more about seeing a disaster unfold and wishing we could stop it. But as the film posits, you can never stop evil. You can only protect yourself from it.
The plot really is surprisingly interesting for a sequel. The genre has come a long way since miserable cash-ins like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. This franchise so far is steering clear of every outing just being more characters moving into a house and getting picked off, as in horror sequels of yesteryear, which would recycle the identical formula but with new teenagers. While Sinister was a story about a struggling author desperately trying to relive the past, this one is instead about the conflict between brothers, the struggles of a single mother, and the horrors of living with an abusive father.
At first, the storyline with the father seemed like a distraction, but in retrospect, it does add a lot. In the first movie, we’re desperately hoping Ellis will leave the house because at that point we don’t know how dangerous it is to do so. This time, we’re desperately hoping the Collins family doesn’t leave the house, and the subplot involving a custody battle threatens to pull them away. There’s a sense of impeding doom as we’re aware that at some point these people are going to have to abandon the house whether they want to or not, and as we remember, that’s where it’s all going to go south.
In terms of the reels themselves, which is something I assume will increasingly become the main draw of this franchise, you can tell Sinister 2 is aggressively trying to outdo itself. In terms of pure shock value, it definitely succeeds, making that lawnmower sequence look like child’s play. At least one of the films does go a bit overboard, though, focusing too heavily on unrealistic gore. What made the last reels so horrifying was the atmosphere of it all, and not necessarily just how brutal the deaths were. But four out of the five reels still fit that description, and that’s not a terrible ratio.
How about Mr. Boogie himself? Sinister made him feel threatening and iconic while only giving him a few minutes of screen time overall, and one serious concern I had going into Sinister 2 was that too much would be revealed about him. We don’t to hear any more than that he’s a demon who appears through images of himself and makes children commit murders. Luckily, that’s still basically the extent of our knowledge. The mythology of Baghuul is expanded a little bit, and we now have a better idea of how it all looks from the kids’ perspective. We also find out slightly more about the “behind the scenes” of the films, and the way in which Baghuul can travel through our world is touched upon.
But it’s as if we suddenly get an elaborate backstory dropped on us like the Halloween sequels offered, suddenly telling us that Michael Myers is evil because of a random cult that brainwashed him. While we do see more of Mr. Boogie this time around, and he’s usually much more brightly lit than ever before, he remains as creepy as ever, and he isn’t on screen enough for the fear to wear out. Even if they had totally screwed up everything else, the main thing I wanted out of Sinister 2 was for Mr. Boogie to still be scary, and that was accomplished here.
Even the last act is really fantastic, going places I didn’t expect it to and exploring elements of this universe I had no idea I wanted explored. Once again, the finale varies dramatically from the finale of the first movie, and it’s so refreshing to see a horror sequel that genuinely feels like it’s doing something different (while still feeling familiar).
The film isn’t without its flaws, the main being the atmosphere this time around just isn’t quite the same. Scott Derrickson injected such a sense of dread into every frame of Sinister, but Ciaran Foy can’t quite get that across. The movie manages to be unnerving to be sure, but it’s never as relentless as the original. With that movie, it was as if Mr. Boogie was haunting the actual film itself. A lot of sequences in Sinister 2 take place during the day and just consist of regular dialogue that stretches on a bit too long, and so the whole thing feels more laid back at times than I would have wanted. If a Sinister 3 does get made, I’d love to see Derrickson return to the director’s chair.
There are also just a few too many jump scares, whereas the original had a good mix of jumps and more eerie moments. Nearly every major jolt in this movie involves a loud, sudden burst of music (Although each of these did really get me, so I can’t complain too much if they did their job). The scares were more inventive last time as well, but in this one, a lot of the memorable moments essentially just built off sequences from the previous installment. There’s that great sequence in the first Sinister where Ellis has an image of Baghuul up on his computer when suddenly he turns his head. A very similar thing happens here, except now it’s more extreme. It’s fun when a sequel takes things from the original even further, but I would have preferred more scenes that were truly inventive.
But for a sequel, Sinister 2 does its job. It expands on the mythology while not overdoing it and while still leaving us with plenty of questions to think about. It doesn’t repeat the same plot, offering something totally new that is still reminiscent of what came before. Really, when looking back at all of the Part 2’s in horror, this ranks up there as one of the best.