Sinister 2 is the chilling sequel to the 2012 sleeper hit horror movie. In the aftermath of the shocking events in Sinister, the evil spirit of Bughuul continues to spread with frightening intensity. The new story is a scary, suspenseful race against time to save a family from falling prey to the madness, movies, and murder conjured by Bughuul and his foot soldiers, the ghost kids.
9-year-old twins Dylan and Zach Collins (portrayed by real-life brothers Robert and Dartanian Sloan) have been spirited away by their mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon of Wayward Pines) to a rural house in Illinois. The home and property are just isolated enough to evade Courtney’s estranged husband Clint (Lea Coco), who has abused her and Dylan. This protective mother is unaware that the house itself is marked for death…
…but Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone, reprising his Sinister role), now a private investigator, has deduced that the family’s hideout is the next manifestation spot for Bughuul. Determined to avenge the tragedy he was privy to while on the police force, So & So journeys to the rural residence, intending to burn it to the ground and thereby end Bughuul’s chain of death. Finding Courtney and the twins there, he realizes that they are in danger from Clint and that he must step in to help them before he can implement a plan of attack against Bughuul.
What neither Courtney nor So & So are aware of is how the ghost kids have already been unsettling Dylan with their disturbing “home movies,” each more sinister than the last…
A Gramercy Pictures presentation in association with Entertainment One and IM Global of a Blumhouse and Steady Aim production. Sinister 2. James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon. Casting by Terri Taylor, CSA, Claire Simon. Music by tomandandy. Costume Designer, Stephani Lewis. Edited by Michael Trent, Tim Alverson, ACE. Production Designer, Bill Boes. Co-Executive Producer, Bailey Conway. Executive Producers, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Couper Samuelson, Xavier Marchand. Produced by Jason Blum, p.g.a., Scott Derrickson, p.g.a. Based on characters created by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill. Written by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill. Directed by Ciarán Foy. A Gramercy Pictures Release.
About the Production
Beyond its sleeper hit commercial success, the 2012 movie Sinister also garnered acclaim from critics and at film festivals.
“It worked on two levels,” remarks producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse. “It was a scary movie. But tucked into that very commercial horror movie was an independent drama about the choice between career and family.
“When considering making a sequel, I believe the most important thing is to get the author of the first movie involved. My biggest job at that stage is trying to convince the people who were smart enough to come up with the original idea, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, to stay with it. While Scott’s schedule didn’t allow for him to direct Sinister 2 [as he had the original], he got involved in writing and producing it, so I felt we could move forward.”
Derrickson wrote the sequel’s screenplay with Cargill, with whom he had scripted the original film. Derrickson offers, “Cargill and I, having seen many horror franchises, were committed to writing the kind of horror sequel we would like to see.
“That proved to be a lot more difficult than I think either of us expected. We discarded more chunks of writing on this script than for anything I’ve done in my career. It was a hard screenplay to write, to get right.”
The screenwriters persevered because, as Derrickson notes, “We had put a lot of effort in writing the first movie, and people responded to it. We felt we had layered in a lot that we could build upon.
“The horror sequels that I have really enjoyed, like Jason’s Paranormal Activity and Insidious, tend to expand on the mythology that made the first film effective. They deepen your appreciation of the original movie by retaining elements that you loved from the first one, while also surprising you by not being imitative.”
A breakthrough for the screenwriters came when “we found a different point of view we could tell a new story from,” says Derrickson. “Sinister was a horror movie about watching horror movies, and that had more power than maybe I’d even intended. Whenever I see sections of the ‘home movies,’ they still creep me out. So these became even more of a conscious presence in the sequel; Bughuul’s stealing children’s souls and compelling them to make the kill films – those homicides through art – are a big part of the storyline in Sinister 2.”
Blum adds, “For the second movie, we knew that Bughuul had made such a powerful impression as the villain in the first movie, everyone wanted him back.”
Ciarán Foy was drawn to join the Sinister team as director of Sinister 2 because “this story is all about exploring the mythology behind Bughuul, beyond what was in the first movie.”
Bughuul is back as the twisted visionary behind the nightmarish kill films, with the slayings caught on camera by the victims’ children whose souls he has conscripted. While expanding the mythology, Derrickson and Cargill also sought consistency by setting the story in another isolated home where horrible murder has occurred.
Derrickson reminds, “In the first movie, Ex-Deputy So & So – he went unnamed – figured out too late how Bughuul is out there doing these ghastly things. So & So is now trying to track down potential victims because he knows the pattern of how this entity, this pagan deity, chooses his victims.
“He intends to burn down the next site where the pattern will occur, and it’s an abandoned farmhouse – but someone has moved in. He feels he has little choice now but to get involved in the lives of this mother and her two boys, who are already on the run from her abusive marriage, yet he can’t tell them the horrible secrets he’s privy to.”
Unlike Ethan Hawke’s character of Ellison in Sinister, Shannyn Sossamon’s character of Courtney in Sinister 2 has no idea that she has resettled her family to a place where murder had occurred. Derrickson explains, “She’s a woman who has recently fled from the husband who badly mistreated her and her boys, twins named Dylan and Zach. It’s through the two kids that we come to find out where they’re taking refuge was the site of a Bughuul disciples’ murder – and of another of the horrific kill films.
“So in the new movie, children play much bigger roles; their point of view is much more significant than it was in Sinister.”
Blum adds, “I very much liked the idea of following a mother, seeing her struggles and the demons that she’s fighting; that’s another inventive departure from the first movie.”
Sossamon reflects, “The drama of what this mom is going through – I’m a mom myself – felt very real. I’d done a couple of horror films and really didn’t ever want to do another because they’re draining, but this script was very good.
“What sealed it for me was meeting Ciarán Foy. We talked for over an hour and a half, and just really hit it off. We had great a discussion about the character and the story, and what he was going to do with the script. Then I watched his film Citadel, and I was impressed with it. I felt comfortable, so I followed my gut and signed on.”
Foy says, “Especially with Shannyn playing her, Courtney is not a female version of Ethan Hawke’s character. She’s on her own track – and so too are her children.”
Sossamon elaborates, “Courtney is experiencing her own horror in a bad marriage. She’s protective of her two boys, and makes the decision to save herself and them by going on the run from Clint, the abusive husband and father.
“The character from the first film, So & So, is someone Courtney doesn’t know at all – much less that he has become driven to solve the Bughuul mystery. When his findings lead him to the abandoned house in which we are hiding, his instinct is to protect them from what they’re running from. All the while, he is trying to solve and deal with this horror that he can’t quite say out loud.”
The actress reveals, “Courtney wonders if she can trust him because that’s a big part of who she is. The scariest parts for me on this movie were the scenes with the ex-husband. I struggled with those in pre-production and when we finally filmed the scenes.”
Actor Lea Coco, cast opposite Sossamon as Clint, offers, “This character is far from my own personality, but it was fascinating to explore the dynamics of someone who is abusive; I considered Clint’s background, and how this mentality was probably handed down. Clint wants his family back together, but his need to be in control is the insight into the character. That need obsesses him, and I read up on how it is typical in abusive relationships; the victim is somehow made to feel like it’s their fault, which makes it harder to break out of the cycle.
“Shannyn Sossamon was amazing. Oftentimes, when you’re supporting the leading lady, the rule of thumb is to be good on all your takes because they’re going to use the one that she’s good in. Well, Shannyn is good in every take; it’s rare to work with an actor who has such an extraordinary vulnerability. She is completely open and present.”
Derrickson praises Sossamon’s “warmth, a quality that comes across in the roles she plays. That was a crucial for this role, so the audience would empathize with her situation and believe in Courtney’s love for her children.
“In this story, we get to experience through one of the twin boys, Dylan, what we didn’t with Ellison’s daughter, Ashley, in the first film: the child getting access to the kill films, with the ghost kids very much present. The scenario is similar, but this time the viewer is witness to what’s unfolding. There are once again five ghost kids in the story, but these are not the same ones from the first movie, because they are connected to a different murder – and are already in contact with Dylan early on.”
Actor James Ransone, who reprises his role of So & So, muses that “Shannyn’s character has a whole family existence that, like Ethan’s character, is grounded in reality; in both movies, the supernatural element runs parallel to the family situation – and, by the way, both movies should invite people to question what their kids are watching.
“My character is now disgraced, because he became by default the prime suspect in what happened at the end of the first movie. He’s been discharged as a deputy, and is working as a private investigator while pursuing the crimes that Ellison was looking into.”
He clarifies, “In Sinister, it was So & So who put together that the unsolved murders are connected to the houses into which people have moved. He is determined to get to the next house in Bughuul’s spider web, and destroy it as a pre-emptive strike. He’s been told by the realtors that it’s vacant, but he finds Courtney and her two sons there – and instantly feels bound to them.
“My character’s obsession picks up where Ethan Hawke’s character’s ended. So & So has a guilty conscience and he attempts to correct mistakes in his past.”
Derrickson states, “Sinister 2 is a true sequel: it builds directly upon the first one because James’ character didn’t get closure at the end of the original Sinister. He broke the case and figured it all out literally minutes too late. He is haunted by that, so we pick up his story as a character living with the ghost of this horrific thing that he and no one else understands.
“James got the part on the first movie because he was able to do the subtle comedy but also bring some weight and seriousness to the character. He helped create the character during shooting, and now we get to see him do even more with it.”
Rounding out the cast of Sinister 2 are the Sloan siblings, Dartanian and Robert. “They’re technically not twins,” comments Sossamon; the two young actors playing identical twins are in fact fraternal triplets. Robert and Dartanian have a sister, Anastasia, who visited the set but does not appear in Sinister 2.
Derrickson reports, “They were so good, and we thought that we would never find a pair like Dartanian and Robert. We were prepared to rewrite the characters to be brothers rather than twins. But we got lucky!”
Sossamon enthuses, “They’re well-adjusted kids and great actors as well. They’re not identical, and they’re actually quite different. I would joke around with them that they should switch characters…”
Dartanian “Dart” Sloan, who can be distinguished from brother Robert through, among other characteristics, lighter brown hair, reveals, “I was really excited to get the chance to be in this film; I’d never done a horror movie before. But we do a haunted house every year for Halloween; we like to scare people.
“I have not seen Sinister, and I don’t think my mom will let us see Sinister 2 because it is going to be even more gory and scarier!”
Robert Sloan adds, “We were allowed to watch a trailer of the first movie, and that was pretty freaky. We only just got to watch our first horror movie, The Sixth Sense, to prepare for making Sinister 2. We were allowed to watch it because my character, Dylan Collins, sees ghosts of children and paranormal things – a little like the kid in that movie.
“Dart and I read the Sinister 2 script. It wasn’t scary to read, but, when all the blood and music and sound effects are added in, it’s going to be much more intense. I do not think we will be seeing this movie once it’s finished.”
Dartanian reveals, “In Sinister 2, I play Zach Collins, the more competitive twin brother. Zach always has to win at everything, even if it’s just a race to the house. In real life, sure, we compete occasionally, but it’s not mean-spirited; when we play hockey, Robert is a better defenseman.”
Robert says, “My character of Dylan is very shy. He’s the one who sees the ghost kids; Zach says he sees them.”
Dartanian adds, “In the beginning of the story, Dylan is encouraged by these ghost kids to commit murder, since Bughuul is the monster who got the ghost kids to kill their families and took their souls when they did. But there’s a twist…”
Robert hints, “The five ghost kids made films of the killings they did, so when the Collins family moves into the abandoned house, the ghost kids need to convince one of the two brothers to do the same – or else Bughuul will be angry.”
Sossamon explains, “Courtney is very disturbed when she sees one of the boys behaving in a manner that reminds her of the boys’ father. She doesn’t think, ‘it’s paranormal;’ she is haunted by the real-life roots.”
The screenwriters made sure to root the new situations within the established parameters of the previous film. Derrickson notes, “The suspense for the audience is that they know from the first movie if the psychological seduction through these kill films is complete, then this family will die at the hands of one of their own. It’s the quieter, meeker kid – Dylan – that the ghost kids go after to influence. As the story unfolds, the relationship between the two brothers and what they believe about these ghost kids becomes a big point of tension between them.”
Foy remarks, “In any genre film, you have to find the human angle; once you identify that personal way in to the story, whether as a filmmaker or as an audience member, there will be resonance.
“Citadel was based on things that happened to me. So I approached Sinister 2 as a story of two brothers; there’s a personal angle in there for me, about growing up and sibling rivalry.”
On-screen sibling rivalry notwithstanding, the Sloan boys were a united front on the Sinister 2 set – not least because state law required them to receive three hours of schooling daily, in 20-minute increments. Additionally, as with any major film or television production, while Foy and his crew would set up a shot the Sloans stepped away and and stand-ins stepped forward…
…but these were no ordinary stand-ins. The crew saw double again, mirror images in the persons of identical 22-year-old female twins Emily and Elizabeth Hinkler, who were quickly dubbed the “stand-twins.” Derrickson marvels, “They were unusual in that they share 99%+ genetic make-up.” The Hinklers have participated in genetic testing and research since childhood; one of their distinguishing factors is that while Emily is right-handed, Elizabeth is a southpaw.
Sossamon admits, “I would stare at them; they were so beautiful. If you looked up the definition of ‘twin’ in the dictionary, there could be a picture of those two; you could not tell them apart.”
Dartanian adds, “The fact that our stand-ins were women, and were 22, was pretty cool!”
It was feasible because the actress sisters each stood just under five feet, wore their hair like the 4’6” Sloan brothers, and were comparably fair-skinned. The moviemakers were so impressed by their presence, and by their professionalism, that the Hinklers were given on-screen roles in the kill films.
Elizabeth Hinkler offers, “We’re often cast as boys or as gender-neutral. It was awesome getting this job, although we’re not into scary movies.”
Emily Hinkler adds, “When we go in for National Institute of Health research sessions, we’ll just be ourselves.”
To guide both younger and older performers and to orchestrate the terror, Blum states that “we were fortunate to have Ciarán Foy as director. It was Scott Derrickson who found Ciarán, actually; he had seen Citadel and loved it.”
Derrickson offers, “In looking for someone to direct the sequel, I looked at a number of films. We had already communicated on Twitter after I had seen Citadel, and I realized that Ciarán had an aesthetic sensibility which would fit Sinister 2: creating horror tension while also emphasizing performance, telling the story through the actors.
“Plus, he’s very confident as a director; he had worked on a budget; and he had directed kids. Most of all, in talking to him, I felt that he really understood what Cargill and I had written, and that he would convey the Sinister mythology well.”
Production began in August 2014 in Chicago, and Derrickson was on hand for the start. He remembers, “Watching Ciarán rehearse scenes and then filming takes that first week, my instinct may have been to run in and give him pointers. But as I would watch him do more takes, I would see him get at the exact things that I’d want to do; I saw he was indeed the right guy for this job.
“What I also realized – and so did Cargill – was that the shooting style of Citadel reminded me of my own approach to shooting.”
Ransone allows that he and Foy “got along well because we have a similar sense of humor. I gravitate to people who come from working-class backgrounds and then move into creating for an art form; for me, there’s a shared language and a sensibility.
“I was impressed at how he wasn’t inclined to play up the supernatural elements; the story comes first for him. He’s definitely interested in making the scares work, but they must pay off the story.”
The Irishman, who had directed his first feature on location in Scotland a few years prior, now found himself an hour out of Chicago with the Kankakee County landscape standing in for rural farmland; scenes were also filmed at the historic Chicago Studio City (CSC) soundstages. But the location lensing allowed for a timeless environment that could envelop the Collins family and pave the way for Bughuul.
The abandoned house, itself a central character in Sinister 2, was indeed empty; its owners had left the white-shingled house behind while they relocated. The only problem with the modest dwelling was that it was not adjacent to a church, as called for in the story. What did sit behind the home on a barren stretch of road was a red barn…
…which production designer Bill Boes and his team refashioned into a church. He relates, “The barn had a grain silo, and was this sort of rusty, red color. Ciarán keyed into that and said, ‘It’s already a dark red, like dried blood, like something horrible had happened there.’
“We had to cut out windows in the side of the barn to replicate church windows in a more gothic style, and we covered the silo on two sides to look like a church steeple.”
The church conveys no religious symbolism in the story, but it was specifically written into the script as iconography; Derrickson reveals that “it was inspired by a place where I grew up, in the Denver suburb of Westminster, Colorado; there is this red church, a monastery, atop a hill. It is notorious for being haunted and it overlooks the whole valley just below it. On Halloween, people would hang ‘bodies’ up in the spire; I would see this on the way to school and have nightmares later.
“So this church being in Sinister 2 holds no religious connotations; it is purely imagery, and Courtney hopes for some measure of sanctuary there with her kids, not knowing its dark history that binds it to the Bughuul horrors.”
For the church and house interiors, yet another set of “twins” was called for; Boes and his unit built a pair of interchangeable sets on the stages at CSC. He reveals, “We scouted about 10 churches to shoot in, but no church wanted to have bloody bodies on their floor. We realized we had to build our own church, and we made two, with the walls being detachable. We would re-use scenery, reconfiguring the walls; it was like origami in that the thing would unfold and then we would put it back together.”
Specifically scripted for iconography as well as story and mythology was the movie’s key prop; Boes designed and built a 16mm film projector. Meant to be from circa 1928, the projector is adjoined by a vinyl record turntable with a gramophone. Through this combo machine, the characters and the audience experience the kill films.
Derrickson muses, “It doesn’t tap into any realistic fears, yet the imagery and atmosphere that you can create with the physical film material and the sound of the projector does make for a sense of dread. The sound of the projector itself, that ‘thwap, thwap, thwap’ of the film reel as it unwinds, can be utterly disturbing when you pair it with something horrific being projected.”
16mm is not the only departure from the first movie’s 8mm “home movies;” the creepy attic where kill films unspooled in Sinister has been superseded by an even more discomfiting “screening room” for Sinister 2 – a crawlspace inside the rectory home connected to the church.
Boes asserts, “The kill films were really scary in the first movie, and in this one they’re even more so; they are more complex. Ciarán wanted them to be creepily creative – and even grainier than before.”
Sinister 2 was filmed using ARRI’s Alexa digital camera with a 4:3 sensor and Cooke Anamorphic lenses; however, the kill films were shot on 16mm Kodak 7219 film stock using an Arriflex 416 camera with Zeiss super speed primes and Canon zooms on a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Foy remarks, “Most people these days would use just one camera format to shoot the entire movie, and then digitally alter the footage of the kill films to simulate grainy film stock. We chose to shoot the kill films on film, to give them that eerie reality.”
One of the production’s most crucial scenes takes place in a cornfield. Boes says, “We found a farmer in rural Illinois who told us that we could cut up his field. Within it, we mapped out a space about 80 feet in diameter where we could make a circle. So in the middle of nowhere, in a real cornfield, we staged a scene which would have frightened anyone who happened on it unawares.”
“The circle motif was something that Ciarán and I had talked about in our first meeting; I started drawing this skull shape and then said two piles of hay could look like eyes on the skull. Ciarán loved it, and we agreed that we’d see it through.”
When it came time to dress and shoot the sequence – with the camera aloft 75 feet in the air on a crane – hay had indeed been baled into piles to look like eyeballs, as well as a nose. Boes adds, “A truck then appears in the shot, backing into the frame so as to look like the mouth. So, subliminally, you are seeing a skull…
“…or maybe Bughuul’s face, which we also tried to effect when we shot in the crawlspace; there’s a staircase and pieces of wood at angles, and with two pipes together it implies Bughuul’s look.”
In Sinister, the scripting revealed the kill films’ recurring symbol as that of an obscure pagan deity dating back to the times of ancient Babylon and named Bagul, with mythology identifying this being as the Eater of Children, a god of darkness who consumed the souls of human children to sustain his own immortal life force.
Since Derrickson and Cargill had provided little additional detail, online commentary on the movie has posited that the screenwriters came up with the name Bughuul by combining a deity called Bugbear with “ghoul.” Derrickson states, “Bughuul was a total fictional construct. Cargill knows a lot about pagan mythology, so he had some sources of inspiration – but it’s essentially made-up.”
The duo therefore opted to deepen Bughuul’s historical imprint in the sequel; in keeping with the retro, or analog, horror tropes an incident in the 1970s is woven into the mythology with Sinister 2 by way of a piece of vintage equipment.
With Bughuul now a “known” entity, at least to Sinister viewers, there was discussion on how to make him even scarier in Sinister 2. “We just put the camera on him,” deadpans Foy. But that came only after special make-up effects artist Roy Knyrim and his unit crafted the horrific visage; actor/stuntman Nick King once again sat at length for unflattering make-up so as to be able to reprise his incarnation of the terrifying being.
The first movie necessitated three-hour make-up sessions to bring Bughuul to life, followed by a 90-minute session to strip off the make-up. “This time, it was a little faster,” reports King. “They got it on in under two hours, but it’s still 90 minutes’ worth of getting it off me. But, it’s worth it!”
King’s auto license plate reads BUGHUUL – a birthday gift from his mother. He remarks, “It’s great to be back in the sequel because I love scaring people. When in character as this pagan demon with the mask on, people can’t see my reaction when I walk around the corner and they get scared.”
Knyrim praises the first movie’s make-up as “very innovative. I had an incredible artist, Rob Hinderstein, who helped recreate this evil force by using as much reference from the original production as we could. Nick King sat for a life cast, and Rob sculpted something as close as possible to the original design. The paint job was probably the hardest part to match, since it’s quite a weird look.”
Further keeping moviegoers off-balance and the cast and crew on their toes, Knyrim reveals that “we rotate three different Bughuul masks. There’s the hero, or prime, mask; the close-up mask – which Nick can’t see out of – and the stunt mask. That last one is almost like a hockey mask; it’s a face prosthetic with a band that goes around the back of Nick’s head and his neck, for wide shots.
“I hope that audiences ‘like’ our Bughuul as much as in the first movie…”
Unlike the characters in the Sinister movies, “there’s not much that scares me,” muses Derrickson. “I don’t live with a continual sense of fear. But I was certainly very scared as a child, and that’s one of the reasons why I have worked in the horror genre; it’s a way of purging or exorcising fear. The scariest part of the Sinister world for me is the kill films, both the allure and trauma of extreme imagery.
“I believe that those who appreciated the first Sinister are going to feel the same about Sinister 2, because it retains the essential components that made Sinister resonate. But in seeing a lot of things this time through the eyes of children, we spring some big scares and surprises.”