Sinister 2 ups the scare ante but flubs the landing

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Sinister 2
Galaxy Cinemas
3 out of 5

Among all the cheapo horror films studios have dumped at the multiplex over the past few years, 2012’s Sinister was one of the strongest. The meat-and-potatoes scary flick about a man (Ethan Hawke) willing to put his family at risk for another stab at literary success stuck to the ribs. Watching his metaphorical personal demons summon a real one was creepy as hell.

The film was permeated by a consistent feeling of dread, punctuated by horrific Super 8 home movies of families being slaughtered. (The lawnmower murder was particularly nasty, as lawnmower murders are.)

Sinister wasn’t a runaway hit at the box office but it’s one of the few newer horror flicks that stands up to a second viewing.

Fast forward to 2015. Instead of rehashing the original movie’s plot, Sinister 2 addresses the questions left by it. The answers are surprisingly satisfactory, and they open the door to the dysfunctional dynamics of a new family.

To fully “enjoy” Sinister 2, there are some basic story mechanics you need to be familiar with. Step up and meet Bughuul, a pagan demon that lives through visual representations. Bughuul haunts kids until he can convince them to murder their families while filming the carnage. One caveat: The slaughter can only take place after the family has abandoned the house where they were being haunted.

This time, the Collins family are the unfortunate hauntees. On the run from her physically abusive husband, Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon, Wayward Pines) and her two sons Dylan and Zach find shelter in a church, which was the scene of an impossibly grisly murder years ago. Uh huh, yeah, wonder what that was about.

While in theory the Collinses are easy prey, two obstacles get in Bughuul’s way: Ex-Deputy So & So (Ethan Hawke’s cop friend from the first film) and Dylan, the kid the spirit is trying to recruit for his gruesome task.

Dylan is haunted by nightmares, which only go away after watching one of those charming Super 8 ditties, each more brutal than the one before. (I had to look away during “Sunday service”, and I saw A Serbian Film uncut.) The demon and his minions — kids who have previously murdered their families — want to brainwash Dylan, and considering his tumultuous family life, success seems more a matter of when than if.

Ciarán Foy (Citadel) takes over the directing reins from creator Scott Derrickson (the man tasked with bringing Doctor Strange to the big screen), but Derrickson remains involved with the script, which explains the smooth continuity. Foy pushes the boundaries further, and has a particularly good time with those horrifying shorts embedded in the film. Another smart decision is giving a starring role to Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone, Tangerine), a man who’s not suited to dealing with demons but who’s nonetheless motivated to do good.

Unlike the first Sinister though, the sequel doesn’t stick the landing. The primary culprit is Courtney Collins’ ex-husband, a one-note character who barely qualifies as a plot device. Also, for a movie that has carefully followed and deepened the rules established by the first chapter, the conclusion doesn’t make much sense.

Sinister 2 is one of those cases in which the journey beats the destination, hands down.