Exceptional actors can elevate even the most ridiculous material, and the mark of an all-time great is the ability to add meaning and gravitas to a middling horror movie. When the time comes to evaluate the breadth of Ethan Hawke’s career, we should look past obvious slam dunks like the Before trilogy and zero in on the first Sinister, a mildly goofy slurry of boogie man clichés given remarkable weight by Hawke’s steely stare and convincing terror. (The well-designed baddie also helped.)
Unfortunately, Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt didn’t make it out of Sinister alive, leaving the job of smoking out the creepy demon Bughuul to James Ransone, reprising his role from the first film and again channeling a low-budget variation on Edward Norton’s tics. Now a private investigator, Ransone makes it his business to burn down houses associated with the film-jumping spirit but runs into Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon), who is hiding out at the old Oswalt place with her sons Zach and Dylan (real life brothers Robert Daniel and Dartanian Sloan) after having run away from her abusive husband Clint (Lea Coco). Dylan is struggling: Not only was he the victim of his father’s violent outbursts, but he’s also been having terrible nightmares and is often riled awake by a series of ghostly children who take him to the basement to show him a series of snuff films wherein each creepy moppet executes his or her entire family. They want Dylan to carry on the tradition, lest they anger the always-lurking Bughuul.
Though Bughuul delivers some serviceable jumps, the middle hour of Sinister 2 is dominated primarily by the late-night screenings of the murderous home movies, all of which are joyless slogs and serve no real purpose in developing tension or heightening the story, because we know the third act can’t happen without a child pushing the family to the brink of oblivion. In a further effort to fill time, the family drama gets drawn out unnecessarily and ends up creating a strange moment toward the end of the runtime: After the kid succumbs to the dark side, he ends up murdering his abusive father, who is such a cartoonish anger totem that it creates relief when he is finally dispatched. So we should be rooting for his supernatural murder? The movie doesn’t seem to know, and also doesn’t seem all the interested in the question.
In addition to Sossamon’s wildly inconsistent and entirely superfluous Southern accent, the other big problem with Sinister 2 (and with a lot of fright flicks produced by Blum House) is that the ending is fantastically unsatisfying (and also seems to violate the most basic tenets established in Bughuul’s admittedly thin mythology). There are no victories in these films, only a continuing cycle of evil with no real heroes. Are there scares? Sure. Does Bughuul still look sort of awesome, and would he still be a good idea in more capable hands (or with a few more script drafts)? Absolutely. But Sinister 2 doesn’t know what it wants to be, and doesn’t add up to much. Hawke should be relieved he ate it the first time around. C–