“Sinister,” the 2012 Ethan Hawke horror film, was a good old-fashioned spooky movie where it was misty at night, things went bump in the night, and every door in the house needed to be oiled. It was also the rare kind of modern scarefest that created mythology about a new malevolent force—no sparkling vampires or sexy werewolves in sight!—to drive the story. Unfortunately the largely Hawke-less (he only appears in a photo) sequel “Sinister 2” drives that malevolent force off a cliff.
Shannyn Sossamon is Courtney, a mother on the run to protect her 9-year-old twins Dylan and Zach (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) from their abusive father (Lea Coco). Their refuge is an abandoned home and church in a remote community. Trouble is, the place comes with a past. “It would be better if I didn’t live were so many people got killed,” says Dylan.
Dylan has been troubled by bad dreams and visions, like blood seeping from the floor and soon is hanging out with some undead devil kids in the basement of the rambling house. There, at the behest of a ghoul named Bughuul, they watch torture porn home movies with terrible endings, like giant alligators eating people popsicles and folks being buried alive. One of the dead kids tells Dylan, “Once you watch all of them you and you’ll never have a bad dream again.” That seems unlikely as the films are meant to unlock Dylan’s dark side.
Enter James Ransone (if they ever remake “Psycho” he’d be a good alternative universe Norman Bates) as the jokingly named Deputy So-and-So, a friend of Hawke’s character form the first film. No longer with the police, he now travels around, trying to locate and burn down all the houses infected by the spirit of Bughuul. His mission leads him to Courtney and the kids, and soon shadowy figures appear in doorways, bloody pop-ups appear on computer screens and still pictures come to life as Deputy So-and-So finds himself in the middle of a life and death battle between an angry ex husband, some malevolent kids and the grand ghoul himself.
Silly rather than sinister, this sequel squanders the promise of the first film with soap opera acting, clumsy pacing and worst of all, a complete lack of scares. There are some mildly eerie moments but the spine-chilling atmosphere that shrouded the first film is missing, replaced with garden-variety ghouls and “Goosebumps” level scares that don’t actually raise goosebumps.
Ransone, who provided some welcome comic relief in the first movie, doesn’t feel like someone who should be doing battle with demons, or whatever it is, exactly, that Bughuul is. Bruce Campbell could have pulled it off, bringing a mix of comedic heroism to the role but Ransone falls somewhere in the mushy middle, not quite funny, not quite plucky enough.
Like Ransone’s performance “Sinister 2” exists in the mushy middle. Not scary enough to be called a horror film, it isn’t funny enough, intentionally anyway, to be a comedy.