There are two things I need when I see a horror movie in the theater: First, a giant Diet Coke to guarantee that I’ll have to go to the bathroom and miss at least one scare. Second, an Ativan.
If an Ativan is unavailable, I’ll make do with a beta blocker, but those don’t work nearly as well. I can see a mildly terrifying movie—SAW, Scream— without chemical intervention, but I usually hyperventilate at least once, ruining the experience for the person next to me, whose knee I will inevitably latch onto with the bloody ferocity of a bear trap. At my best, I’m terrible, but I was particularly awful during Sinister 2. And I think I had a panic attack as the film reached its less-than-creepy but jump-filled crescendo.
If you’re unfamiliar with the first Sinister, there’s no need to worry, you’ll have absolutely no trouble following the story of Sinister 2, a horror flick about a demonic creature called Bagul (aka the Bogeyman), who preys on innocence and forces children into committing horrible crimes which they—of course— record on tape as a tribute him. Why he wants the crimes taped is a bit of a mystery: either so he grows stronger in power, or so he can advertise them on a members-only site that costs $19.95 a month to join. It’s not all that clear.
Sinister 2 is an awful movie. The plot is bland, uninspired, and full of holes that are never filled: A woman escapes from her abusive and powerful husband with her two children and goes to live in a farm house owned by her best friend, which conveniently happens to be located right next to a church in which a Spanish inquisition-style execution had been committed at the hands of a chubby boy with a bad personality (trust me).
The acting isn’t much better. Shannyn Sossamon, the female lead—never hailed as one of our generation’s best actresses—keeps forgetting that she’s supposed to have a Southern accent, something that’s noticeable every five seconds as she chews piece after piece of blood-covered scenery until it emerges from her mouth in a red foam crawling with maggots. Her supporting actors—who play a bumbling detective bent on stopping the horror and two real-life brothers who play Sossamon’s possibly possessed sons—are decisively worse. Even Bagul is kind of lackluster in his evil, which is understandable if you have to spend eternity around a bunch of nasty little kids.
But despite its shortcomings, Sinister 2 is also scary as fuck. No, really: as fuck. I’m not using that term lightly.
In the first of the franchise, the big twist is that everyone being murdered and eviscerated (check out this nice home movie of a dude being run over by a lawnmower) isn’t even touched by the bogeyman, but rather meeting their gruesomely detailed deaths at the hands of cheeky five-year-olds with a penchant for snuff films. But that’s why it’s so fucking creepy. Kids, man, they’ll get you every time!
The second film doesn’t have the luxury of relying on the plot twist, so instead it turns to a familiar cinematic device: jump scares, which come quickly and conveniently. Say what you will about jump scares being cheap, but they have endured because they’re effective, at least in the moment.
Without the jump scares, however, this movie would be a literal nothing. The first film almost felt like a dare: Could I keep watching something so disturbing and evenly-paced enough that it always kept me on my toes? The second film, in comparison, was more of a marathon of manufactured terror, almost as if the entire creative team knew that they had nothing else to hinge the film on but bright flashes of light and banging doors. Even the home videos the kids made of their murders were a little humdrum, and when “the best one” was shown, I couldn’t help but feel that if these kids were trying to please Bagul with their violent offerings, they were really going to need to step their game up.
“Why aren’t you using your gun?” I screamed at a character named Detective So-And-So.
“You have a car! Run him over! He’s human!” I shouted at him again a few minutes later when he had the chance to run one of the villains over. (It’s okay, everyone else was making loud noises too.)
“Why the fuck would you go into the recesses of what everyone has now agreed is an evil place that has been sucked of all things holy?” I wanted to shriek at another character who had somehow decided that the best place to restore antique furniture was a church in which blood literally drenched the floors. Unfortunately, at least some of these eloquent thoughts came out as guttural oomphs, making it impossible for the characters to listen to my advice.
Yet despite my semblance of bravado, I was terrified. My heart had scarcely slowed down from watching the previews (no, even the goddamn previews were TERRIFYING. The latest Paranormal Activity looks stupid scary) when I started screaming, much to the delight of the people behind me and the chagrin of my friends Carol and Jenn, who agreed to accompany me to this film in exchange for free tickets and a dinner at Denny’s.
I made my first mistake just before the lights went out. I have recently traded my benzos for a more natural type of medicine that’s supposed to soothe anxiety and create a potent dreamlike feeling. And, for some unknown reason, I thought that a hallucinogen would be an excellent way to quell my fears. But if I was terrible before my “kind cap” kicked in, I was much worse when the movie came at me full-force about 40 minutes later and I developed the distinct suspicion that the Bogeyman was in the theater with us, despite the fact that he supposedly only haunts small children.
My second mistake was to see the film with two people who were just as scared as I was. Carol, who works as a college counselor (and has seen some shit), revealed that she had apprehensions and Jenn, who works for Shutterstock and should, therefore, be used to an endless stream of terrifying images, told me that she had purposefully brought a sweater so that she could hide her face in it, something she actually did during the movie’s 30-minute climax. This meant that Carol and I were later forced to recount the bafflingly vague plot to Jenn.
“You know, it was just, scary,” I told Jenn as we exited the theater. “Like the kids, they were scary but then it was like murder? And then the other kid got saved, I think? But I couldn’t really tell them apart because they were both kind of annoying and I wouldn’t have minded if they had died?” That’s what I sound like when I am high.
Carol, who took a more analytical approach, couldn’t quite put the movie into words either. There were so many plot holes (thinly covered by the aforementioned jump scares) that by the time we had finished untangling exactly happened, how exactly the Bogeyman chose his victims, we had forgotten what the actual point of the film was.
“It wasn’t that bad,” I told my companions, conveniently forgetting that just moments before I had screamed “Fuck pandas!” as the movie concluded with one final jump.
In reality, it was bad. Very bad.
But I don’t know for whom it was worse: me, or the audience who had to put up with my hoarse screams every time I perceived something as frightening. And because I get very flustered when I am terrified, I tend to go into self-preservation mode, flinging my limbs every which way and screaming obscenities like “Your mom fuck” which is often met with nervous laughter.
My biggest scream came three minutes into the movie when a small child looked into a mirror and saw something that was, literally, sinister. Reviewers are right in their observations that that Bagul’s presence is overused in the sequel, making him less scary when he shows up than it did in the first (where his appearances were much more judicious). But it doesn’t change the fact that a jump scare is a fucking jump scare. Sure I could tell myself that it wasn’t that scary right after the fact, but I wasn’t able to calm myself from ripping out a loud “Giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirl” for two seconds longer than everyone else when he sprung out of the shadows.
If nothing else, Sinister 2 is a masterclass in the value of cheap thrills. As we were walking out after—there was definitely a person who pointed me and said “There he is!” to his laughing friends—I reached behind Jenn and grabbed her shoulders, growling as she bent over in fear.
Fortunately for all of us, Sinister 2 was mostly so preposterous that our fears of Bagul didn’t even last until we were safely out of the theater and in the parking lot, ready to go home to what turned out to be a very restful night of sleep.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Blumhouse Productions