When I wrapped up 2012, I declared Scott Derrickson's SINISTER the best horror film of the year but didn't really see room for a sequel (outside of the original being a hit, of course). But at least Derrickson stayed on board as co-producer and co-writer of the obligatory SINISTER 2, allowing Ciaran Foy to take the director's chair (no, I never saw CITADEL). The sequel fills you in on the premise, but it still helps if you saw the original.
James Ransome returns from SINISTER, though he's no longer a deputy (and, amusingly enough, his character still has no name). He's trying to break the pattern of ghastly events established in the first film by going out on his own and destroying various "murder houses" before anybody else can move in--but much to his dismay his latest target turns out to be secretly occupied by a mother (Shannyn Sossamon) and two young sons (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) hiding out from an abusive husband/father during a custody battle. We learn early on that the ghostly children serving the faceless "Boogeyman" are already grooming one of the sons to carry on the hideous "home movie" tradition, and whats-his-name is faced with the unenviable task of preventing the broken family unit from fleeing the property while the plot and the well-connected ex do whatever they can to force them to do just that.
In the current crop of sequels, SINISTER 2 preserves what made the original so disturbing while coping with the fact that most of the audience already knows what's going on... and Derrickson's script makes it clear from the very beginning that it's not going to go the route of trying to "exorcise" the evil with holy water and chanting (I guess the box-office failure of DELIVER US FROM EVIL steered him clear of retracing that ground). The film succeeds quite handily in presenting Ransome and Sossamon as characters worth caring about, and after the annoying siblings in films as varied as JURASSIC WORLD and VACATION, the Sloans are finally there to give us an all-too-believable pair of brothers driven to intense antagonism by their situation. Best of all, the film never gives in to simple contrivances and makes sure that everything happens for an actual REASON.
Nor does SINISTER 2 hold back in its realistic depiction of the ongoing effects of a cycle of domestic abuse--this is always a delicate issue in "horror" films because one can easily take the quick pop-psychology approach ("See, he was abused as a child and now he's a monster himself!") to justify crass exploitation, or one can truly try to express the heart of the matter (Cronenberg's THE BROOD comes easily to mind, but a closer approximation to SINISTER 2 would be to imagine a Guillermo del Toro completely bereft of compassion). Combine this with the disturbing-as-ever "snuff movie" footage (which even provides some horrific payoff for a bit of business we might dismiss as a typical "false scare" earlier on) and you've got a film that proved more than capable of rendering a noisy row of high-schoolers in the back of the theatre into shocked silence.
As sequels go, SINISTER 2 ranks well above such rehashes as INSIDIOUS 2 and 3 even if it does loosen its grip somewhat during the overstuffed climax (way too many ghostly children running around the house when the single antagonist would have been scarier; and Lea Coco's wife-and-child beater character is just so, SO nasty that the film invites an element of "Ooh, I hope the Boogeyman gets so-and-so but doesn't get thus-and-such" audience rooting). And as such, I hope Derrickson and company leave well enough alone no matter how much this rakes in. It's still not broken. So don't fix it.
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