I had very mixed feelings about Sinister. It had some wonderfully scary moments, and the central Super 8 film strip gimmick was utilized in a very intriguing way. On the other hand, the characters were flat fucking awful across the board. I was actively rooting for the protagonist to die a terrible, awful death after repeatedly lying to his family and putting them all in danger for absolutely no decent reason.

This, funnily enough, was the big reason why I was willing to give Sinister 2 a chance. Because (spoilers, I guess?) the main characters all died at the end of Sinister, maybe there was a chance that the sequel could be halfway decent after getting rid of all that baggage.

And sure enough, Sinister 2 is an improvement in many ways. Kinda. Put it this way: If someone breaks a leg, and it heals just in time for that same person to break an arm, is that an improvement?

We may as well begin with James Ransome, one of only two returning cast members from the previous movie. He played an unnamed deputy, who’s now an ex-deputy after the events of the first film. And for whatever reason, he still doesn’t have a name that we know of.

Anyway, Ex-Deputy has taken up work as a private investigator for the purpose of funding his side project: Tracking down every house linked to Bughuul (played once again by Nicholas King) and burning them down. We can see that he’s already done this to the Oswalts’ former home, where the first film took place, so that’s reassuring.

Basically, Ex-Deputy is fighting this war against a demonic evil with no partner, no training, no plan, and very little idea of what he’s up against. Hell, I don’t even think he ever carries a weapon of any kind. So the guy’s a dumbass, but at least he’s a sympathetic and well-intentioned dumbass. That’s still a huge step up from what we had to work with in the previous film. Speaking of which, let’s get to the rest of our victim pool.

Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon, here serving as a poor man’s Lena Headey) is a single mother to two young boys named Dylan and Zach (respectively played by actual twin brothers Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan). They’re a very loving family, but it soon comes out that Courtney is on the run from an abusive husband (Clint, played by Lea Coco). So they hole up in a house that’s been abandoned for several years, after strange events that left several people dead and a child missing. If you’ve seen the first film, you probably know what that means.

Again, here we have main characters who are perfectly easy to sympathize with. They’re just going about their business and had the dumb luck to cross an ancient Babylonian demon. I’d also like to note that the child actors in this movie are far and away better than those in the previous film. And then the film goes in a very interesting direction.

The first film was told pretty much entirely from the perspective of the main adult, while the second film puts a far greater emphasis on the kids. By way of Dylan and Zach, we get a much better idea of how Bughuul corrupts innocent children to recruit them for his sacrifices. He goes about this by giving the children nightmares, directing them toward the ghosts of Bughuul’s previous victims. These ghost children (primarily Milo, played by Lucas Jade Zumann) then offer to relieve the nightmares by playing the Super 8 tapes of their own murders.

The motif of film strips is central to this franchise, and the sequel takes that imagery into some fascinating new directions. For instance, any film lover will immediately respond to the sight of a new friend handing over a film and saying “You’ve got to see this, it’s my favorite.” Or better yet, “I made this myself, I hope you like it.” The presentation also plays into the concept of children getting warped by hyper-violent media, and it’s done in a very clever way.

And of course, there’s the matter of escalation. Some particular moviegoers can see so many horror movies that they become inspired to go a step further and create something even greater. Or maybe they’ve just seen the same scares and kills so many times that it doesn’t shock anymore. Either way, it results in a drive to craft bigger, gorier, scarier films. And that concept is utilized here in a way that’s truly inspired.

Of course, there are still problems with the script and story. To start with, though we learn so much about how Bughuul works, none of that translates into learning much of anything about what Bughuul is or why he’s doing any of this. We do get a scene with a paranormal expert (played by Tate Ellington) to provide some slight hints of exposition, but he’s a woefully dull and ineffectual replacement for Vincent D’Onofrio’s character from the first film, who’s apparently disappeared without any kind of explanation.

The screenplay is credited to C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson, both of whom were also responsible for the script of the first film. But alas, Derrickson decided not to direct this time. He instead handed off the reins to Ciaran Foy, and this was the mistake that broke the whole fucking movie.

From start to finish, the horror in this film is ruined by piss-poor direction. The effects range from lazy (the fading ghost effects) to just plain awful (those crocodiles!). The jump scares don’t make any sense, and every single goddamn one of them is accompanied by a musical sting that’s loud and annoying as fuck.

Most unforgivably of all, the Super 8 film segments are completely ruined. The recordings are all presented in such a way that we always know exactly how the victims are going to die before we actually see them die. Which, as I understand it, does not make for good horror. They’re all done in a straightforward manner, with none of the macabre gloom or sudden shock that the film strips of Sinister showed at their finest. I really want to stress this, folks: The film strip murders are the franchise’s central gimmick, the one thing above all else that makes this unique among horror franchises. And Foy cocked it up.

Sinister 2 brings some fascinating new ideas to the series and some characters who are much easier to invest in, but the whole thing is ruined by sloppy direction. Everything is so overdone and clumsily handled that the horror is entirely DOA. The writing is perfectly fine and the cast is more than good enough, but why oh why was this project given to someone who couldn’t direct a decent jump scare?

There’s no way I can recommend this film, but I hold out faith that the franchise could turn out to be something special. This franchise offers so much potential to deliver something that horror movie fans can be proud of, so here’s hoping the next entry will be handled by people who know what to do with it.

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