‘Sinister 2’
Ciaran Foy
Stars: James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

With a lot of tossed-off horror entries, especially cheapie sequels to cheapie fluke hits like “Sinister 2,” the best way to watch them is to watch the stuff that isn’t about scares — the business bubbling underneath. Horror films are great vessels for subversive and even transgressive subtext, and even the sloppiest fright machines tend to have something unsettling, even profound, to say. There isn’t too much of that in “Sinister 2,” but it is trying. It’s not even mostly about chills so much as it is a Lifetime movie, one about domestic abuse, that occasionally remembers there’s a scary ghost afoot.

The first “Sinister,” from 2012, was more of a torture grinder. “Sinister 2” is nicer, although a woman trying to escape a psycho husband is surely scarier than some movie ghoul. The newest victims are Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her twin boys (Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan), who incur the wrath of “Bughuul,” the vengeful sprite who likes to coax children into massacring their family and preserving it on 8mm film. The only major carryover from the first is James Ransone’s bumbling cop. Previously “The Wire” actor (he was perpetually on-edge Ziggy) was the comic relief, but now he’s the savior, though he’s still, amusingly, credited as “Deputy So & So.”

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After the grueling pessimism of the first, the fact that the horror this round is more of an afterthought is perversely a kind of relief. “Sinister 2” parcels out Bughuul’s previous greatest hits like rancid dog biscuits to get us through the main story, which charts Sossamon’s ills, her hesitant romance with So & So and her boys’ run-ins with Bughuul and his ghostly cabal of children. The domestic drama is too generic, but it’s given real feeling by the actors. Sossamon can be moving as a woman trying to keep her cool, happy to be around a gentle man for a change. Ransone indulges in lots of twitchy facial expressions, which would normally be a red flag but are here endearingly goofy for a movie featuring this much disembowelment and people set aflame. He’s all wrong but he makes the film almost right.

It’s still a bit of a rush job, and not rewarding enough as a genre film with sneaky subtext. The connection between Bughuul’s acts and the real-life boogeyman hunting after his estranged family are somehow both too blunt and not clear enough. And it doesn’t always know how dark it gets. Given the harsh note on which it ends — in the quite abrupt climax, that is — one could seize on something about the fragility of family bonds, even between mother and sons. But there’s just not enough meat on the bone. Director Ciaran Foy doesn’t even have the chance to cut his teeth with creeping shots or moody lighting. It’s a weak horror film that, thanks to the actors mostly, nearly works as a so-so drama.

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