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Review: Sinister 2

This sequel lacks the atmosphere of its predecessor, but makes up for it with great performances and sympathetic characters, says Lauren McNeilage

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Director: Ciaran Foy
Starring: Shannyn Sossamon, James Ransone
Running Time: 97 minutes

Image: Gramercy Picture
Image: Gramercy Pictures

This review should perhaps be prefaced by the admission that I am apparently one of very few people who watched Sinister 2 and actually enjoyed it. I was genuinely shocked when I went online and discovered that it had been critically panned to such an immense degree. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a humiliating 13%, almost 50% lower than its predecessor, and critics have near-universally deemed it to be slapdash and lacking in scares. Yikes. By all accounts, the critical consensus is far more terrifying than the film itself. Needless to say, this review is largely going to take the form of a defence.

I'm prepared to admit that while I was surprised by the film's abysmal reception, I did agree with some of the criticism. Sinister 2 is definitely not as scary as its predecessor and this is mainly for two reasons. Firstly, whichever way you slice it, Bughuul himself is not that scary. In the first film, where he appeared largely as a shadow at the back of a dark room or as a blurry reflection in a pool, it didn't really matter that up close he resembles the demonic love child of Eric Draven and a cartoon alien. He was so shrouded in mystery and seen in such fleeting glimpses that it made him seem much more of a dark presence than an actual character. In the sequel, however, Bughuul pops up so often that, frankly, it gets boring. He's so at home in that old farmhouse that I half expected there to be an entire scene where he is sprawled on a sofa somewhere in the background, reading the paper and maybe eating some custard creams.

The second reason why the 2012 film was so much scarier was because it was so chillingly atmospheric. Sinister's underlying feeling of claustrophobic menace was the standout feature of the movie and one thing that made the atmosphere suffocating was the fact that the script largely focused on only one character. As Ellison unearthed more and more horrific details about the Bughuul murders, the horrifying knowledge became an almost tangible weight; threatening to smother not only Ellison but also the audience. The second film doesn't really have a consistent atmosphere, while the horrific Super 8 footage of families being electrocuted and set on fire serves only to make the following scenes feel bland.

So, what did I like so much about Sinister 2? Despite having praised its predecessor for having focused on one character, ironically my favourite thing about the sequel was that it did the opposite. Sinister was gloriously eerie, but its fundamental flaw was that it lacked humanity. While Ellison was easy to sympathise with, none of the other characters were fleshed out enough for us to really care about them at all.

Sinister 2, in contrast, offers multiple protagonists; all of whom are three dimensional and genuinely likeable, which, sadly, is a rare and precious quality in horror films of this kind. Whilst he remains irritatingly nameless, the Deputy is blessedly given much more of a personality than in the previous film and I warmed to him instantly. James Ransone is a great actor and he plays the character as a genuinely good, noble guy, rather than the forgettable true crime fanboy he was in the first film. Moreover, his carrying on Ellison's research with such dedication feels genuine, rather than a cheap way to muscle him into the second film. Likewise, I grew protective of Courtney very quickly, largely because Shannyn Sossamon plays her with such amazing depth. In the wrong hands, the fact that romance develops between them would feel tacky, but the two characters are so genuinely suited to one another that I never questioned its authenticity.

Furthermore, something which critics apparently haven't seen fit to comment on is the film's fascinating and genuinely heartfelt portrayal of a family torn apart by domestic violence. Clint, Courtney's abusive husband, has comparatively little screen time, but what little we do see of him feels chillingly believable. The scene in which he violently forces a fistful of food into Dylan's mouth because the boy isn't eating quickly enough, before becoming immediately apologetic the moment Courtney yells at him to stop, sent a shiver down my spine. Similarly, the very different ways in which the two sons react to their father's abuse feels not only very genuine, but, in one case, incredibly unnerving. I don't want to give too much away, so all I will say is that one of the boys' reactions to Bughuul is clearly a direct product of his relationship with his manipulative father.

Although the film may not be as creepy as its predecessor, that doesn't mean that it's entirely without scares. The ever present threat of Clint coming to take the children away adds a deeper layer of menace beyond the obvious supernatural threat, and the Super 8 videos are still pretty damn terrifying, as well as gorily creative. There's one 1984-esque sequence that I found so gruesome I had to look away for most of it.

Is Sinister 2 a great horror film? No, in all honesty it isn't. But it is a horror film that offers an unusual degree of emotional depth, as well as an effective continuation of the first film's unsettling commingling of horror rooted in both the supernatural and the real world.

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