It’s been a little over two years since Bughuul laid claim to Ethan Hawke and the rest of the Oswalt family, and now I find myself on a soundstage sixty miles outside of Chicago awaiting his return. Thinking back on the original Sinister only makes it clear how much that first film has grown in the interim. I clearly remember driving around seeing the blood-smeared billboards, wondering what kind of content actually laid behind them. Blumhouse was just on the cusp of becoming the horror juggernaut it’s known as today and I had no idea which direction director Scott Derrickson (best known at that point for The Exorcism of Emily Rose) would move in next.
As recent horror history has now made clear, he was ready to double down on scares while adding a visceral charge that was missing from the majority of mainstream releases within the genre. The original Sinister (scripted by Derrickson along with C. Robert Cargill) was a brutal supernatural thriller that, without wallowing, didn’t skimp on the gore. Nor did it treat its scares casually. Each Super 8 video uncovered by Ethan Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt contained a highly original kill accompanied by a visual aesthetic and knack for imagery that made sure to bore into your brain. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen the movie and I can still recall every pixel of the opening shot from memory. While many of the more commercial Blumhouse movies at the time hovered around PG-13 territory, Sinister wasn’t the least bit afraid to have a little girl murder its central cast with an axe. As a result, it became one of a handful of low budget franchises that would help cement the genre’s aesthetic for the next few years.
On the set of Sinister 2 outside of Chicago, it’s clear that the budget isn’t quite as low this time out. Nor does it need to be. With the success of the first film and the prevailing awareness of the material, it’s not deemed too big a risk to add a few extra bucks to the original’s budget of $3 million. And now I’m accompanied by a few other journalists on a relatively sprawling soundstage that will double as the interior of the rural home occupied by Shannyn Sossamon and the twin boys, Robert and Dartanian Sloan, who play her sons in the film.
We’ve arrived on day four of a thirty day shoot. Four weeks total will be spent in this studio before the production heads back to Los Angeles. In addition to Sossamon, there’s another key creative here that’s new to the franchise, director Ciarán Foy. Fans of his previous film, the uncompromisingly tense Citadel, know that Foy isn’t just highly capable — he has a knack for rendering children as unstoppable, frightening entities. Given the nature of the kids who fall under Bughuul’s control in the Sinister franchise, there’s no doubt this particular skill set will come in handy.
For right now though, we’re watching something decidedly more banal. Sossamon’s Courtney is urging the Sloan twins (who are named Zach and Dylan in the film) to finish up brushing their teeth and head to bed. The twins are bursting with youthful energy and it’s clear that Courtney has a hard time getting a handle on them during the most routine of tasks, which doesn’t bode well for keeping them from watching a new batch of Super 8 videos when (and if) they get their hands on them.
In between takes we speak with Derrickson who, along with Cargill, has returned to write the sequel. Despite having to pass on directing duties due to his commitments on the upcoming Doctor Strange, Derrickson has put plenty of sweat into Sinister 2. Not only is he going to be on set for several weeks during production, but he firmly asserts that writing the script for this project was the one of the most difficult endeavors he’s ever embarked on. He and Cargill threw out tons of pages that didn’t rise to the standards of what they, as fans, would actually like to see in a sequel to the first film.
Also returning to Sinister 2 is James Ransone, whose charming Deputy So & So provided the few moments of levity to be found in the original film. His role here is increased dramatically, but the only information we’re given at the time is that “he’s no longer a Deputy.” One could surmise though (and later be proved correct by the film’s trailers) that he has come to help steer Sossamon and her boys away from the clutches of Bughuul. In the mood for some bloodshed, I can’t say that I wish his endeavor a 100% success rate.
After an extended Q&A with Foy, Derrickson. Sossamon and Ransome (highlights of which you can check out right here), we are led on a tour through the rest of the set. While we don’t get to see any of the signature Super 8 videos that are an integral part of this franchise’s identity, we do see plenty of creepy shit. The more rooms we visit, the more remnants of awful events we encounter. And the more we realize that the scope of this new entry will easily make it stand apart from its predecessor.
Finally, as our van is idling outside to take us back to O’Hare, we get our meatiest glimpse yet of what Sinister 2 has in store. As one of the Sloan twins sleeps, figures encroach upon him. Emerging from the shadows, we’re reminded of one of the late-blooming elements of the original film, the ghosts of Bughuul’s children, waiting to do his bidding. Photographed with surprising clarity (and none of the visual obfuscation that normally accompanies supernatural entities in film), they act with a surprising amount of agency.
That agency is present in the children we now see gathered around Sloan’s bed. Pale and dead but with eyes that dart with life, the children lean closer to Sloan. Half a dozen tiny faces surrounding him. An uncomfortably intimacy lingers in the air before, in unison, they whisper “shhhhh.” With cameras still rolling, that’s the last sound we hear as we are led away from the stage and back into the real world.