Article by Kristin Wicks:
To most people driving by, it wouldn’t mean much, aside from the strange spelling raising an eyebrow or two. However, any diehard Sinister fan would likely do a double-take after noticing the “Bughuul Productions, LLC.” sign outside Studio City on Chicago’s west side. Oh, yes. This was definitely the right place. Last August, Bloody-Disgusting was invited to a small press conference and to witness a few scenes being filmed on the set of Sinister 2, the highly-anticipated sequel to Scott Derrickson’s 2012 sleeper hit. The original film’s powerhouse writing team, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, are back while Ciarán Foy (Citadel) takes the driver’s seat as director. We also see the welcome return of James Ransone (performing the only recurring character aside from Nicholas King’s “Bughuul”) who is curiously without his deputy badge at this point in the game.
The plot switches gears a bit in the sequel to focus almost solely on the children’s perspective. Shannyn Sossamon (Courtney) plays a strong, determined mother who moves to the town with her twin sons, desperately trying to keep them safe from their father. While her terrifying, abusive husband is a constant, looming threat, the town’s mysterious, dark secrets also begin to affect their lives during their already stressful state of turmoil.
During the set visit, we quietly observed the studio a bit before the interviews with Ciarán Foy, Scott Derrickson, Shannyn Sossamon (“Wayward Pines,” Catacombs), and James Ransone (In a Valley of Violence, Sinister). We were allowed to view two separate scenes being filmed that day and were treated to a nice lunch with the crew. The first scene we were given a sneak peek at was screened through a video monitor, revealing Sossamon’s character standing at a bathroom door, trying to get information from her sons while they brushed their teeth. She inquired about a church incident she felt one of her sons knew something about and dropped a clue noting her friend who knew a writer authoring a book. Well, we the audience know that Ethan Hawke’s character, Ellison, is probably not writing anything at this time for obvious reasons, but she might not know that yet. The son being questioned simply said, “Everyone knows,” and seemed upset when his brother privately asked him to explain what had happened in the church.
The second scene made available to the handful of press buddies and I was a little more up close and personal. We walked over to the sound stage and stood from below to watch them film a dark night scene taking place within a child’s bedroom. The boy was sleeping while a group of undead-looking, ghostly kids tightly gathered around his bed. Eerily quiet, they ominously hovered over him and leaned down toward his body. This may sound like a tame situation, but imagine waking up to that!
Another cool moment was getting the opportunity to actually climb onto the stage area and enter a room decorated like someone’s office within a church. It even carried a vibe that felt like we were inside a basement room. If I recall, there were little clues like stained glass hinting what type of room we were visiting. We didn’t stay in this spot too long, as it was only a 30-day shoot and there wasn’t much time for the cast and crew to waste.
The press conference was rather short, but Derrickson, Ransone, Foy, and Sossamon were very accommodating while still keeping their lips sealed from giving anything special away. They were currently on their fourth day of filming, which all occurred within Chicago, Illinois. Derrickson said the settings will still have the same rural feel as in the first film.
We learned that Sinister 2 takes place at some point a few years after the incidents that occurred in the first film. We’ll just have to wait and see why Ransone’s character is no longer a deputy. The mythology behind Bughuul is also being expanded much more. The new family ties into the first one in some way, and we have a female lead, but the children have a much larger, more significant role in this story.
Derrickson was questioned whether the Super 8 footage (being such an important part of the first film) will be used once again. “The thing I was most adamant about,” he says, referring to the script process, “was that Bughuul and these kill films… The creation of these homicides through art was, I think, the things that made Sinister, Sinister, from a franchise point of view. So, yeah, that’s going to be in there.”
Derrickson expressed pleasure and relief by the great job Ciarán had done so far while directing the film. “I went back and watched everything that I knew I liked and tried to find everything I could from the last five or six years to see what else had been done out there. I felt that there were only two or three directors that worked at this budget level or something close to it… Ideally, I wanted somebody who had some experience working with kids, but that wasn’t a must, and the ability to create horror tension with an emphasis on performance to tell the story through the actors.” He continued, “And, I was really surprised actually how few directors met that criteria and Ciarán was one of the three.” On a more personal note, “The shooting style of Citadel reminded me of my own approach to shooting… It’s a rare thing to find a director who’s really, personally humble, but who’s very confident creatively, and that’s Ciarán.”
My question centered around the notion of whether they had plans for a Sinister trilogy. “Sure, yeah. I’d like there to be 10 of them!” Scott Derrickson replied. “But, it really depends on how this turns out and how it does. The reason the script took so long was because both Cargill and I have seen so many horror franchises… We’re really familiar with how they tend to work and what the bad tendencies are. So, we were both really committed to writing the kind of horror sequel we would like to see, and that proved to be a lot more difficult than I think either of us were expecting.” He elaborated more on the writing process, “We threw out more large chunks of writing on this script than anything I’ve done in my career, probably, just because it just felt like if we were going to do it, we had to hold ourselves up to that kind of standard. And, the trick of it was finding a different point of view to get into it because the horror sequels that I have really liked tend to expand the mythology, but also kind of deepen your appreciation of the original in unique ways that give you elements that you loved from the first one, but they also will surprise you. You connect with it, but, not imitative.”
On the subject of using a meta framework (concerning it being a horror film about watching horror films), Derrickson explained, “…The idea of that being a precarious business and ‘be careful what you watch and what your kids see’… The idea of exposing yourself in both the allure and trauma of extreme imagery, it turned out to have more presence and power than I thought. It definitely informed the writing of the second one, so I think there’s even more conscious presence of that idea in the sequel.”
Shannyn chimes in about her role as the mother. “I know what my character’s going through, and I don’t think it relates to the horror so much as in the first Sinister. She’s very protective of her two boys–who are the stars of the film–and they’re going through something much more intense, but she’s on the run from her very abusive husband… It’s a different struggle.” She confessed, “I was attracted to it as I’d done a couple of horror films, and really didn’t ever want to do one again because they were draining. It was really attractive to me because it was like a drama.”
Regarding the church, Derrickson only let us know where the imagery originated, which was from his own personal experience as a youngster. “In Westminster, Colorado, there’s this red church that was on the top of a hill, a monastery, that’s supposedly notoriously haunted. It looks over the whole area where I went to school below… It was always really frightening–I used to have nightmares about it as a kid–and I remember Halloween when people would hang bodies up in the spire,” Scott relayed. “They’d climb up there and we’d go to school, and, ‘Oh, my god, there’s a dead body swinging from the spire of this church!’ For me, it was just starting with a place and architecture. It has no religious connotations. It ends up being a place Shannyn’s character spends a lot of time at… It has a dark history that ties into the Bughuul mythology.”
James Ransone offered more insight, “Without giving anything away… My obsession picks up where Ethan’s ends,” he said, having noted his character’s guilty conscience intended to right some wrongs. “Shannyn’s story is actually grounded in reality… So, there’s this supernatural element that’s sort of running parallel to that. It’s secondary to what her stakes as a character are.”
At the end of the press conference, Scott Derrickson hinted that the end of Sinister was a strong starting point for the sequel; we didn’t get to see any closure for the character we’d invested so much time in. “He’s the one who calls and says, ‘Oh, my god, I’ve figured this out,’ and he has that phone call. He’s pieced things together and then we know what unfolds after that, but we don’t get to see what it means to him. What would that do to somebody like that, who had been that invested in trying to stop it and trying to call… That was a starting point for us, to take seriously the emotional life of that character the audiences love that we are invested in, and we’re definitely picking up there.”
Finally, I’d been able to talk with producer Jason Blum for a few minutes on the phone since he’d not been able to join us for the press day in August of 2014. Blumhouse Productions has produced quite a few successful, low-budget horror films, most notably the Sinister, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity franchises.
Working with children on a horror film set is a little more challenging, but not necessarily the way one would expect. They were quite well-behaved from what I had seen during and between takes. “The (shooting) days are short because we have kids. The biggest challenge is the hours are very short and there are more people on set. It’s harder to manage. It’s a time pressure when you’re working with kids.”
Blum recounted his origin story for becoming a producer: “I kind of always wanted to be a producer. I produced Noah Baumbach’s first movie when I was 21 years old. I always kind of liked the mix of art and commerce that’s in a producer’s job. I think it’s an interesting puzzle to try and figure out every day. I never set out to make a specific kind of movie,” he continued. “I really just wanted to make movies and TV. And, once I did ‘Paranormal Activity,’ I found a really fun niche for me, which is kind of making independent movies and having them not released in studios. Sometimes– not all the time–and, I like that part of it. I’ve come to learn a lot about horror movies from working with Scott Derrickson, James Wan, and James DeMonaco. I really love them and hope I’m lucky enough to make them for the rest of my career.”
Blum detailed the process of choosing a golden script that will most certainly be tapped above others to be made into a film: “Well, you never know for sure. Sometimes, the movies are more successful than other ones, but I take a lot of cues from the artists involved. If a director I really love has a real point of view and a real vision about a script–even if I read the script and don’t totally get it–I’ll go forward with it because I believe in the artist, in the director’s work. That’s really kind of the biggest thing. I take my cues off of other people whose work I admire and what gets me… If there’s no director attached, I literally look for, ‘Does it feel new and different?’ And, that’s the one thing that I look for when I’m reading scripts. Does it feel like we have not seen this before? If it’s scary and we haven’t seen it before, then we usually make those.”
Jason’s thoughts on Ciarán Foy grabbing the helm as director on Sinister 2: “I think Ciarán has done a terrific job. I’ve had a great time working with him. I think he’s going to surprise everybody, because Citadel was kind of a cult movie in the U.S. I’m excited for people to see that Ciarán can really work and make a very original, more mainstream movie. It’s also been fun working with Scott in another capacity, as a producer on the movie.” … “He has a little bit more resources to play with than the first movie that he did, and, I think he’s a visionary, Ciarán… People didn’t know what to expect or make of him. The crew is really behind him 100% and he’s very very invested. He loves Sinister and the franchise; he’s been talking all the time to Scott, Cargill and I. Obviously, it’s the first movie he’s shot in the United States. I think he’s going to move to California, which I’m excited about, and, hopefully, I’ll get to make some more movies with him.”
Getting Jason Blum’s take on whether a trilogy sounded like a plan: “We try and make each movie as well as we can, and I would love to make more Sinister films. I think there’s a lot of mythology and a lot of different stories we could tell. We have no plans to make a third one currently. We’re just focused on the second one, but I certainly hope… I agree with Scott. I hope we make ten more.”
While we didn’t see enough footage during our press visit to make any presumptions, the vibe on set and introspective panel discussion really felt like their approach is genuine and respectful to the original material. The trailers have already revealed that we are in for one wild ride. I am personally really looking forward to seeing this film in the theater.
The theatrical release date for Sinister 2 is scheduled for August 21, 2015.