Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sinister Part Deux

After availing myself to the charms of the original Sinister the other evening, I went right into its sequel — titled Sinister 2, believe it or not — so I figured why not give it a little critique as well? Clearly, from the reviews and ratings out there, this one didn't earn much love, but I avoided reading any plot details so I could experience it with a reasonably open mind. I did presume it would go the way of most sequels — inferior to its predecessor — and on that count, my expectations were not wrong. However, somewhat to my surprise, I found it anything but deserving of all the hate heaped upon it. I suppose it goes without saying that people who didn't like the first film would likely not care for this one, and many of the reviews I saw came from that point of view, though I wonder, if someone detested the original, why they would bother to watch its follow-up, not to mention devote the time and energy to review it. While a few too-familiar, gimmicky plot devices rear their ugly heads, for the most part, Sinister 2 doesn't merely stomp along on a worn-out path; happily, it takes a bit of a detour and spends less time on Bughuul, the boogeyman from the first movie, than on the mental and emotional decline of a couple of young boys who are subjected to Mr. Boogie's influence.

Spoilers: Yes.

Whereas in the first movie Bughuul remained a creepy, shadowy figure with an intriguing origin, in this one, Bughuul is, unfortunately, the weakest link. From time to time, he pops up to remind us that he is actually the motivating force behind the dark events on the screen, but the scenes in which he appears leave little to the imagination. He's no longer a half-hidden background figure but a clearly seen, big-as-life cinematic bad guy, the ultimate effect being that he no longer has any power to disturb.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of disturbing moments in the movie. The on-screen murders actually are pretty unsettling, all the more so because, as in the first movie, they're committed by children. That fact having been established, Sinister 2 opens right up with some graphic violence perpetrated by minors. Evil children may have been done to death, and among reviewers there have been some apt comparisons to Children of the Corn, but in this movie, we're presented with some decent characterizations, featuring very good juvenile actors. In fact, all the actors, young and old, do a fine job with the material at hand, elevating this movie several notches above what it might have been in less capable hands.

Young Dylan Collins (Robert Daniel Sloan), his twin brother Zach (Dartanian Sloan), and their mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) have moved into an old farmhouse, apparently to escape the attention of her abusive ex-husband. Dylan has ongoing dreams of murders at an abandoned church on the property, and he begins seeing the ghosts of dead children, led by a boy named Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann), who show him movies of various grisly murders, telling him that the only way to make them stop is to watch all the movies to the end. These experiences horrify him, but he soon learns that Zach has also seen the ghosts, and unlike Dylan, Zach revels in the supernatural attention.

Ex-Deputy "So-and-So" (James Ransone), from the original film, knowing the truth about Bughuul, has gone about burning down houses where murders have occurred to prevent further killings at those sites. Unaware that the house is occupied, he comes to Courtney's place to destroy it. Surprised by her presence, he claims to be a private investigator, which prompts her to believe he is working for her ex-husband. However, he convinces her he is looking into old murders at the neighboring church.

Shortly afterward, Courtney's ex-husband, Clint (Lea Coco), does show up, intending to take the boys away from her, but Ex-Deputy intervenes and forces him to leave. Next, Ex-Deputy meets a young professor named Stomberg (Tate Ellington), who has been investigating the disappearance of Professor Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio, from the first movie). Stomberg possesses Jonas's old ham radio set, from which he has heard the voices of children and what he assumes to be Bughuul. Ex-Deputy urges Stomberg to destroy the set.

Clint once again comes around to Courtney's and this time successfully regains custody of the two boys. However, Zach, now under the influence of the ghostly children, drugs Clint, Courtney, and Dylan. Next thing we know, the three have been strung up on crosses, and Zach burns Clint to death while he films it on an 8mm camera. Before Zach can kill his brother and mother, Ex-Deputy arrives on the scene and destroys the camera, preventing Zach from completing the task his ghostly masters have demanded. Ex-Deputy frees Courtney and Dylan, but Zach is forced to flee from the ghosts as well as Bughuul, who appears to him in the flesh....

At the end of the film, Ex-Deputy is surprised to find Professor Jonas's ham radio set in his motel room, and even more surprised by what comes out of it.
Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and Ex-Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone)
One of the home movies depicts a little fishing trip, complete with hungry, man-eating alligators....
The youthful subjects of Bughuul, on the prowl for souls to steal
Rather than Bughuul, the focus of the story is on the tension between the characters, particularly between Dylan and Zach and Courtney and Clint. While the ghosts make their awful demands on Dylan, he is less afraid of them than disgusted by what they want him to do. Zach, on the other hand, clearly having inherited his father's antisocial tendencies, actually desires to be part of that circle, though he is initially rebuffed. Both young actors play their parts to convincing effect, one sensitive and sympathetic, the other as cold and depraved as a hardened murderer — at one point deriding his mother and calling her a "cunt" with almost too-convincing viciousness.

James Ransone, returning from the first film as (now Ex-) Deputy "So-and-So," takes on leading duties, and the insecure, stuttering, and physically diminutive character comes across as a refreshing change from Ethan Hawke's crustier, cynical main character in the original Sinister. But every now and then, our deputy finds a burst of inner strength, such as when he stands up to Courtney's bullying ex-husband, Clint. The meeting between Deputy and Professor Stomberg plays like a nerd convention almost worthy of The Big Bang Theory, except for it being pretty scary. The scene in which Stomberg tells of having heard children's voices on the ham radio set is one of the creepier moments in the film.

Here, I find it sad that one of the neatest scenes in the movie is relegated to the "deleted" section of the Blu-ray. In the first film, the main title track by composer Christopher Young — reprised in this film — features a distorted child's voice calling out numbers,  which turn out to be the geographic coordinates of the various murder sites. As an avid geocacher, I am filled with all kinds of dark ideas for a new set of caches based on this very premise. (Cachers, beware!)

While distinctly inferior to its predecessor, Sinister 2 at the very least presents itself as much more than a mere retread of concepts introduced in the first film. It's a shame that the character of Bughuul is treated as sort of a throw-away Freddy Krueger, a mere prop to occasionally provide a jump scare or fill a few moments when the narrative has focused too long on actual characterization. Still, director Cirian Foy and the cast — especially the most youthful members — work hard to make you believe they're in this for real, and the 8mm "snuff films" really do depict cruel and unusual torture. Many of the harsher criticisms of the movie may have some justification (the current incarnation of Roger Ebert wrote that "Sinister 2 is so close to being a good movie that everything bad about it seems ten times worse.") but there's far more right about the film than it's generally given credit for.

Three out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
"I'm burnin', I'm burnin', I'm burnin' for you."
Nerd, meet the ex-deputy. Professor Stomberg (Tate Ellington) and Ex-Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone)
The ghostly Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann), a not-at-all nice boy
"Don't turn around, oh-oh-oh. Der Kommissar's in town, oh-oh-oh!"

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