Sinister 2 is less of a horror movie, and more of a terror movie. Maybe even more of a gross-out movie—it’s kind of a delicate hair to split.
“Horror” is the anxiety-producing power of imagination; “terror” is the adrenaline-producing power of depiction. Matt Zoller Seitz, in his essay regarding the TV show Stalker, puts it this way: "Where horror is driven by psychology and philosophy and sometimes theology, terror is driven by fear of violence, period."
The central scares of Sinister 2 come from having a Scary Man show up unexpectedly—or perhaps one of his youthful minions—accompanied by the sting of a Scare Chord (that loud, discordant sound that accompanies "jump-out" scares), and maybe an unexpected flash of light. This—and, crucially, only this—is what's "scary" about Sinister 2: that, only when you most expect it, something may happen on screen that'll make you twitch in your chair.
If you sense some disdain, you’re right: in my opinion, the achievement of movies like Sinister 2 isn't all that much greater than the playground bully who criticizes you for having flinched at his fist. At no point in its runtime does it really try to inspire horror in you—just the fear that behind that curtain lurks BAM!—Scary Man in a White Mask.
The movie picks up in the aftermath of the first Sinister, with Ethan Hawke's character and family uniformly obliterated by the malignant spirit of Baghuul, i.e. Mr. Boogeyman. Baghuul operates on the corruption of children; once a child is exposed to him through some medium, after long enough, that kid will kill her whole family, record the process somehow, and get abducted into the nether-world by Baghuul. Then some poor child will discover the recording made by the previous child, and the cycle will continue itself.
None of this constitutes a spoiler, considering that, roughly 45 minutes into the first Sinister installation, a bona-fide Professor of Demonology appears to explain to the protagonist exactly who the villain is, what his motivation is, how he does what he does, what must be done to stop it, and what the salient dangers are.
Sinister 2 catches us up pretty quick on all of this: characters in this film re-hash the prequel's content with a depth and comprehensiveness that's almost self-aware. Our hero, the unnamed Deputy from the first film (James Ransone), is scouring the Midwest, burning down Baghuul's former haunting-grounds in the hopes of dispelling the demon. But when he encounters a family living in a property he'd hoped to burn down, the Deputy gets more deeply involved in fighting Baghuul than he'd want.
Ransone, unexpectedly, is one of the few saving graces of Sinister 2. Between his excellent physical sensibility and wide-eyed demeanor, Ransone manages to almost elevate the movie to the self-parody that it is. When the camera's trained on him, you'd be forgiven for mistaking Sinister 2 as the horror-genre equivalent of what Airplane was to disaster movies, or The Naked Gun to buddy cop films.
The remainder of the film, though, is the cinematic equivalent of making raspberry noises on your palm. Characters are one dimensional, twists are foreshadowed from half-hours away, and jumps are telegraphed so heavy-handedly that the movie becomes a game of measuring up how much the film actually made you jump vs. how much you thought it would.
Which, on reflection, is sort of the essential question of a movie like Sinister 2 (and one that makes me wish for more diverse genre labels): are you here to ride a roller coaster? By which I mean, is the whole reason that you'd see a movie like this because you're an adrenaline junkie? To its credit, the film manages to draw out some tense-ish moments—sub-par to those from the first film, or even those of comparable movies like Insidious or Paranormal Activity, but that's the thing about roller-coasters: enjoying one most doesn't preclude you from enjoying others just a little bit.
The basic point of which is: you should probably skip Sinister 2. There are enough smart, thrilling, horrifying (and intermittently terrifying) horror movies out there to make watching Sinister 2 little more than an exercise of your fast twitch muscles. (I suggest the following: The Conjuring, It Follows, The Babadook, The Thing [yes, the old one with Kurt Russell—still got it], or We Are What We Are.)
There's enough gruesome deaths in this movie that describing them would actually be more efficacious, with respect to horrifying the reader, than watching the movie; while watching the movie, the sight of bodies dangling over a lake getting chomped and shaken by an alligator is both incredibly and, on the part of the filmmakers, accidentally hilarious. But described, it can seem almost scary—and this goes double for the other faux-documentary deaths depicted in the movie. So: they're gross, but not gross enough to warrant watching (hear that, teenagers?), and you should already be skipping this movie for other reasons.
There's mention of spousal and parental violence and abuse; we see the salient father force-feed his child mashed-potatoes, threaten to beat both his wife and children, and threaten (to another character) what seems like marital rape. It's pretty extreme, and the film definitely doesn't earn it.
There is an R-rated amount of profanity here: some f-'s, some sh-'s, and a handful of low-tier swears. They won't stand out against the violence or accidental hilarity, but if you're looking for them, they're there.
Jackson Cuidon is a writer who lives in New York City with his wife and dog. Sometimes he tweets @jxscott.