Sinister 2 (2015)

 

Sinister 2 is one of those rare sequels that actually works as a follow-up to the original, adding on additional information and thematic stuff without losing any of the elements that made the original so compelling. To be fair, though, Sinister 2 isn’t the sort of film that could stand on its own; it relies too heavily on the mythology and “rules” defined in the original. Anyone coming in cold will find themselves very confused. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just an observation. The story told in the original film was already concluded. Sinister 2, while heavily influenced by those events and characters, is more interested in exploring a different angle. And you know what? That’s just fine. I’m not usually a fan of sequels, since the original movies are rarely written in a way that lends itself to an interesting and well-rounded multi-chaptered story. More often than not, sequels are filmed in order to make money and end up confusing the themes of the original to the point where the story becomes very close to incomprehensible. Consider the Saw and Insidious series as examples.

The story in Sinister 2 is thus: a mother and her two sons are hiding in an abandoned house from their abusive father. Deputy So and So from the first movie, reeling from the violent murders, is attempting to track down and destroy the evil responsible – with a limited amount of success, it must be said, and a whole lot of old-school arson. Unfortunately, the hideaway the family has picked happens to be the site of a horrific series of murders – and guess what’s hiding in the basement with a trunk full of snuff films?

The pacing isn’t as tight here as it was in the original, but for the most part, Sinister 2 works on a technical level. The setting is interesting and dynamic, hinting at darker tensions just below the surface. The camera work is excellent, the sound-design intriguing, and the characters well cast. Unfortunately, Sinister 2 does share the original’s propensity towards jump-scares, which was – and remains – a cheap tactic that wears its welcome well before the end. And while the ending felt forced, Sinister 2 did a great job of rounding outs its characters – all interesting, most likable, some redeemable, and a few too far gone to save. It’s also not afraid to give its protagonists realistic and deep flaws – these people make mistakes. Horrible mistakes, sometimes. But always for very understandable and – unfortunately – human reasons.

However, the same question I had for the original also popped up in the second. It’s established early on that the demon – or whatever Bughuul is – lives inside artistic representations of violence; songs, drawings, radio recordings, and film. Bughuul then gains power by corrupting children through said pieces of art, and can survive inside them for years. The Sinister series clearly understands that representations of violence and traumatic events are compelling, but doesn’t really go into why these pieces of art are so powerful. This seems strange to me, as Sinister is – in essence – a horror film about the impact of horrific videos. The characters seem to argue that the pieces of art – most, but not all of them made on film – were created to document tragedy, and then go on to “infect” later witnesses who stumble across the evidence. Except then we have the audience watching a horror film, about characters watching horrible events captured on video. So….what is Sinister’s opinion on horror, class?

Honestly, at this point I can’t say. It’s not that horrific images will inevitably corrupt the people who see them, because this is – again – a horror film. Horror films are scary, they’re full of shocking imagery and nightmares projected up on screen. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is what horror movies do. Except, I’m still not sure what Sinister, either the original or the sequel, means to do. It’s not even that Bughuul’s motives are hard to understand – he’s hungry, and that’s what monsters do – but rather that Sinister doesn’t seem to understand how it’s philosophy fits into the larger world.

Because here’s the thing: artistic representations of horrible events, of trauma and pain and nightmares, are everywhere. They’re timeless. Powerful. And in a lot of ways, I would argue that they’re necessary. What do human beings use this art for?

To remember. And, in many cases, to work through our own history.

See, people write about horrible things not because they want to celebrate awful things that happened, but because it’s human nature to try and come to term through things by way of art and storytelling. You could argue that these were the first coping mechanisms. Sometimes people create scary stories and creepy paintings because it genuinely helps them deal with their past, and from the confusing thoughts that result from it. Former soldiers have made masks to help them come to terms with their PTSD and war experiences.

Some of these pieces are quite beautiful. Some of them are horrific. And all of them are incredibly, painfully, honest.

Sometimes, art can be horrific and hard to look at. That doesn’t mean it’s without impact or importance.

And that’s the part that Sinister as a series seems to struggle with. It acknowledges that these images have a power – supernatural and otherwise – but seems unable or unwilling to consider that sometimes, horrific imagery does have a practical purpose. People create this art for a reason. And people watch horror movies for a reason.

I walked into Sinister 2 without expecting very much. I came out with a lot to consider. Watch the original, then follow it up with the sequel. They’re well worth looking at.

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