Jason Blum’s Blumhouse production shingle is known for its factory-like efficiency in churning out profitable low-budget horror properties, but with “Sinister 2,” director Ciaran Foy’s follow-up to Scott Derrickson’s 2012 hit, the company achieves a rather extreme level of economy. Rather than cook up sequel after sequel of steadily diminishing quality until the franchise runs out of gas, “Sinister 2” cuts straight to the chase, presenting a retread of such brainless, shameless lameness that it’s hard to imagine anyone begging for another installment. Its name-recognition value and the dearth of chiller competition on the calendar should make it a lucrative investment for its backers, but anyone who found the original a cut above the average horror pic will likely leave the theater disappointed, if not downright insulted.
Truthfully, “Sinister” brought little to the table that was particularly novel, openly cribbing elements from “The Ring,” “The Shining” and “Village of the Damned,” but at least it had several genuinely pulse-pounding scares and some overqualified performers in Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio to fall back on. “Sinister 2” has none of those things, and also completely misses the escalating sense of dread and mystery that powered its predecessor: Offering little catch-up for newcomers, the film presumes familiarity with the twists and turns of the first film, without supplementing them with much that’s fresh.
In any case, “Sinister 2” revolves around Bughuul, a mute boogeyman character who resembles a cross between King Diamond and Michael Jackson, and spends his leisure time recruiting children to murder their families while recording the whole thing on antique video equipment. He operates under a few weirdly strict procedural rules: Potential recruits are first enticed to watch video reels of previous murders (like a demonic football team reviewing tape), and families are killed only after leaving the house where the initial supernatural encounter took place, thus subverting the “why don’t they just move?” question asked of every haunted-house movie in history.
This time around, the haunted house is actually an abandoned church next to a house, somewhere deep in rural Illinois. Single mother Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) lives here — the house, not the church, which was recently the site of a horrific massacre — with her 9-year-old twin sons, hiding out from an abusive estranged husband (Lea Coco) who has the local police force in his pocket. Dylan (Robert Sloan), the frailer of the two boys, is visited nightly by a host of spectral ghoul children, all of whom take turns screening their personal highlight reels of sadistic family annihilation, like some sort of Manson clan show-and-tell. His more jockish brother, Zach (Dartanian Sloan), may or may not be able to see them as well, though Mom is predictably clueless.
Reprising his supporting role in “Sinister,” James Ransone essentially takes the lead here as an unnamed former sheriff’s deputy who oversaw the sad fate of the Oswalt family in the first film. Now working solo to track down and burn houses that may be prime boogeyman portals, he shows up at Chez Collins with a can of gas in hand, surprised to discover anyone living there. Opting not to tell the family anything about the whole Bughuul situation for some reason, he hangs around the property to see what strange doings might be afoot.
In contrast with the first film, where Hawke’s true-crime writer intentionally moved his family to the murder house to do research, Courtney is aware of the property’s history but simply doesn’t care. Using the boarded-up church as a workshop for her custom-furniture business, she hasn’t even bothered to Google the details of the Unspeakable Ritualistic Torture Murders that took place on that very spot. Bughuul certainly has an eye for easy marks.
There’s something both narratively cheap and philosophically troubling about the way “Sinister 2” limits its gore to nameless and anonymous figures seen in violent video vignettes — old slasher pics at least bothered to write the cannon-fodder characters a few lines of dialogue before dispatching them — but for that peculiar class of viewers who judge their horror product solely on the inventiveness of the kills, the home movies do present one particularly twisted murder adapted from a Marquis de Sade outtake. Yet given the complete absence of the first film’s mounting unease, “Sinister 2” leans heavily on cheesy jump scares, including one involving Ransone’s laptop that’s as nonsensical as it is laughable.
Second-time director Foy employs a fluidly floating, constantly tilting camera to open up the house environments, and the film at least looks like a modern horror pic, but it’s hard to overemphasize just how little “Sinister 2” offers in the way of real goosebumps. (Foy does shoot the homemovie sequences on actual 16mm stock, which gives him some street cred.) The half-dozen child actors here all do well enough in their roles, and the Sloan twins in particular certainly show up most of their adult counterparts. Ransone plays his paranormal crusader with equal notes of “The Naked Gun’s” Frank Drebin and “Scooby-Doo’s” Shaggy, and his quick romantic subplot with Courtney is so hazily sketched it almost feels like an inside joke.