"Sinister," a horror movie from 2012, starred Ethan Hawke as a crime writer who moves into a rural Pennsylvania house and discovers a treasure trove of old 8 mm movies. They all showed families being murdered in creative ways, and each reel bore a jocular label like "Pool Party" or "Family Hanging Out." Lurking in the footage -- possibly in the actual celluloid -- was Bughuul, a demon who preys on children.
"Sinister" was more sick than scary, but it had a bright spot in James Ransone (HBO's "Treme") as an earnest but ineffectual cop known only as Deputy So & So. In "Sinister 2," Hawke is absent but Ransone reprises his likable sad-sack role. His character has left the force to devote himself to chasing Bughuul, but he still can't get no respect: In the credits, he is listed as Ex-Deputy So & So.
Like its predecessor, "Sinister 2" is written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, who have come up with a whole new series of twisted snuff films. A reel labeled "Fishing Trip," for instance, ends up involving human bait. Still, "Sinister 2" has an interesting premise. Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) is hiding from her abusive husband in an abandoned farmhouse with her twin boys, Dylan and Zach (Robert and Dartanian Sloan, respectively, who come from a set of triplets). Dylan, a sensitive boy, is visited nightly by dead children who show him their hideous home movies. Zach, the more aggressive brother, feels left out and begins to simmer with resentment.
Directed by Ciaran Foy, "Sinister 2" tends to grab at ideas that don't quite gel. The flaming crucifixes and blood-drenched church fit together well enough, but the haunted ham radio just doesn't belong. Only with the appearance of Courtney's violent husband, Clint (Lea Coco), does "Sinister 2" finally find a worthy theme. The movie crudely but effectively shows how monsters can breed monsters.
Once again, Ransone endears himself to us as an aw-shucks type whose fumbling only makes him more heroic. In this otherwise dreary movie, he's a delightful So & So.