Sinister 2 (2015)
Dir. Ciarán Foy
Scr. Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Shannyn Sossamon, James Ransome, Robert Sloan, Dartanian Sloan,
Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Lea Coco, Nick King, Lucas Jade Zumann,
Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden Marshall Fritz, Olivia Rainey
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Trinity and sprockets are before us.
The whirring and clicking of an old projector accompanies the jerky, garishly-coloured images from an old 8mm home movie. As always with layman-captured images from the past, there's something alternately beautiful and creepy about them. These, however, get mighty creepy, mighty fast. This is no ordinary family highlight reel.
Splayed before us is a skull-shaped crop circle in the middle of an Illinois cornfield. Its centrepiece is a disturbingly aberrant midwestern Golgotha with three people bound to crosses: a contemporary Jesus, Dysmas and Gesmas hung like scarecrows against the black of night, the eerie scene lit by the headlights of a half-ton, the victims' heads hooded and twitching in terror with shrieks, wails, cries and moans, all begging for mercy. The first crucified figure is doused in gasoline and set on fire as he screams, howling in agony as he burns to death.
These visions are thankfully ripped away from our purview as the frail Dylan Collins (Robert Sloan) bolts upright from under his covers. To those who've never seen 2012's Sinister, you've just witnessed a nightmare. To the rest of us, we know immediately that we've been slammed face-first into the horrific netherworld of the demented, serial-killing demon Bughuul (Nick King) and thanks to a drawer-filling shock cut, he even puts in a brief appearance in the lad's bed.
How's about them All Hallows Eve Apples?
Happily, Scott Derrickson (director-writer of Sinister 1) and co-scribe C. Robert Cargill skilfully use this and the next two sequences to set-up our characters and situation so the film efficiently and effectively introduces the Sinister-world, by doing double-duty for both the initiated and uninitiated to dive into the macabre universe of Sinister 2.
A gorgeous cut leads us to a pair of boots as they leave the front passenger door of a truck and firmly rest upon the sidewalk above the curb, the owner's hands meticulously and firmly retying the laces. The composition of the shot is imbued with malevolent qualities and we briefly think this might be a killer preparing to mosey on into a kill.
No such luck on that front, but more creepiness follows as we see that "boot-man" is none other than the unnamed friendly deputy (James Ransome) from Sinister. A regal middle-American church towers behind him. Once inside the Lord's House, he finds himself within a confession booth, facing a Priest (John Beasley) who catches on that the fella isn't Catholic, nor wanting to really make a formal spewing of his sins. The Priest immediately recognizes the man as the Deputy from the "Oswalt case" which, cleverly and simply allows the audiences to get some subtle expositional backstory as well as informing us that the events the Priest refers to are of a sensational nature that must surely have made national headlines.
What the Deputy needs is some manner of assistance in the area of dealing with something both evil and supernatural. "You want me to tell you to use a cross, some Holy Water and say, 'The Power of Christ compels you?' the cynical Priest offers. "Will it work?" asks our Deputy. "No!" affirms the Priest. The acting, timing and humour here make us realize this is no run-of-the-mill horror sequel. Following up seriously the Priest urges the Deputy to give up his pursuits, but he does indeed offer an excellent note:
"You don't stop evil, you can only protect yourself from it."
Another astonishing cut, wherein the sound begins slightly over the shot leading into the next one, features the clicking, squealing sounds of what appears to be the creaky old projector from the beginning, and in fact, it takes a few seconds to realize what we're actually seeing. It is the wheels of a shopping cart in a supermarket being pushed by Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon), a babe-o-licious yummy mommy alternately shopping for groceries and trying to keep her eyes on a mysterious guy who seems to be following both herself and her two rambunctious boys Dylan (the young lad from the opening scene) and older brother Zach (Dartanian Sloan).
Courtney's instincts are right and she manages to get her kids out of harm's way by blasting out of the store, into their car and out of the parking lot, leaving the mysterious follower behind. Courtney has been on the run from her abusive, rich, powerful husband Clint (Lea Coco) who has been sending all the private dicks money can buy to track her down. He might have found the area of Illinois they're in, but luckily, she and the boys are holed up in a property her friend owns that's located deep off an old country road - a creaky ancient farmhouse attached to a long-abandoned chapel. Because Courtney specializes in restoring antiques, the joint is full of furniture she can work on while the kids have the time of their lives.
Unbeknownst to them, the trio is living on the unhallowed ground occupied by the chilling, supernatural Bughuul. His specialty is attacking families through one vulnerable child in the family unit. This is what befell the Oswalt family (headed up in the first film by Ethan Hawke) and it's on the verge of happening here. The Deputy (who is no longer with the cops) is obsessed with using a grid he's put together of where Bughuul will strike next and he shows up on the old homestead to burn it down (as has been his wont in battling the ancient evil). Surprised a family is living there, his plans go awry. Now, he must, as the Priest cautioned "protect" this family "from evil".
This is going to prove a tad challenging since young Dylan has befriended some really creepy kids who keep luring him into the basement to watch 8mm snuff films in which each of the kids are seen to kill everyone in their respective families. The mass murders are carried out with the help of Bughuul. Once the dirty deeds are done and committed to film, he claims the soul of the survivor to become part of his army of procurers. Though he looks horrendous in every respect, the demon scores points for his mega-taste in arcane modes of creating art through which his evil is funnelled - ham radios, 78rpm phonographs and now, 8mm film. (It's like the long-forgotten technologies to create art in olden times is what makes him a kind of Guy Maddin-like surrogate for a demon serial killer. Gotta love that!)
It becomes very clear that Sinister 2 is not only well-written, but seems tailor-made for a director with a number of thematic and storytelling arcs which allow him to use his unique approach to filmmaking to raise a horror franchise sequel well above its normal station.
Keep in mind my penchant for knowing as little about movies before I see them. All I knew going in was that I'd be seeing a sequel to a horror picture I genuinely enjoyed. As the key creative credits were not display until the end, I had no idea who directed the picture. Something seemed familiar, but only at the bitter end of the its unspooling did I slap my forehead and proclaim, "Of course!"
You see, Sinister 2 carefully parcels out the scares and delicious gore within a story which places emphasis upon the tribulations of a single mother, the very real horror of an abusive husband stalking her, the loneliness and fear a young boy is fraught with due to his lifetime of being beaten by a scum bucket Dad, the genuine sibling rivalries which occur normally in life but are exacerbated by demonic forces and last, but not least, the potential for love and healing between both Courtney and The Deputy, and maybe, just maybe, the creation of a loving nuclear family.
This was a film that moved, tantalized and finally, scared the living shit out of me. Upon discovering that it had been directed by the supremely gifted Ciarán Foy, whose first feature Citadel was one of the most exciting debuts I'd seen in years, I was both floored and delighted. Foy has a great eye, sensitivity-galore, an unabashed familiarity of using personal life-experience to bolster fantasy and the kind of showmanship and genre smarts to generate terrific horror pictures. He's going to make some genuine classics and masterpieces. Citadel is pretty much in that territory. Sinister 2 delivers a first-rate sequel to a very decent horror movie, but does so by upping the ante in all respects so that it outdistances its predecessor by leaps and bounds.
He's the real thing, but it's also proof that contemporary Hollywood should seek out genuine filmmakers and artists (as they have here) instead of the usual assortment of hacks they normally dredge-up these days. It's a winner all the way and I can hardly wait to discover Foy's next film.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars
To read my previous (and extensive) writing on Foy's work, click HERE (in-depth analysis of Citadel, HERE (an in-depth interview) and HERE (original review during its Toronto After Dark Film Festival run).
Sinister 2 is a Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures theatrical release.