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Q&A: Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill talks “SINISTER 2”

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Though SINISTER was a labor of love for many, there’s no two people who put their blood, sweat and tears into that film than Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. For Derrickson, SINISTER was a shot to work with a studio but without the restraints his previous big budget film had presented, while Cargill, a writer over at Ain’t It Cool News, had his first shot at having a script see the big screen. Luckily, the two saw the fruit of their work blossom into a horror phenomenon, and so their return behind the pen for SINISTER 2 was a welcome sign of confidence among horror die-hards. And with the film now in theaters, FANGORIA caught up with Cargill to talk all things SINISTER 2 and what eerie ideas didn’t make it to the page…

FANGORIA: At what point after SINISTER was made did you know that SINISTER 2 was a possibility?

C. ROBERT CARGILL: It’s weird because when we originally made SINISTER, we made it specifically to be one-and-done. We just wanted to make one movie and we wanted to make a good horror film. That’s what we were gunning for, but we were on the set of the first film about three quarters of the way through filming when Jason Blum pulled me aside at lunch and said, “You know you and Derrickson have to come up with an idea for the second one.” And I thought, “Really? We’re not even done with the first one,” but he said, “Well, if this one works and does well and people want a second one, you guys should have an idea now while the window is open rather than in 6 months.”

So I said, “Okay,” but still, there was no plan or real progress. That was the only conversation we had, and then when the movie came out the reviews were like, “Yeah, they’re clearly setting this up for a sequel and for there to be a series.” But we were both like, “Actually, no, we didn’t.” Then, anytime Scott and I did a screening that we did a Q&A after, we’d always be asked, “So when are we going to see the second one?” Then, we started getting the emails, tweets and Facebook posts saying, “Hey man, when are we getting another SINISTER?” At that point, it was like, “Well, people want to see a second SINISTER so maybe I should start taking the idea seriously.”

After that, I started talking to Scott about it and we threw around some ideas. Soon after, we were like, “Yeah, we want to do a sequel.” From there, it became a real thing.

FANGORIA: From that perspective, the tale of the Oswalt family definitely wraps up but you sort of opened up “horror icon” Pandora’s Box with Bughuul. At what point did you decide to continue the narrative of the Deputy rather than focus on something completely isolated from the first film?

CARGILL: Early on, we knew if we were doing SINISTER 2, we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. And in those reviews for the film, some critics would lay out the plot for what a second SINISTER could be where it’d be that another family moves into that same house and it happens all over again. We didn’t want to make that movie! That movie sounds awful! We would actually talk about it in that same tone, “That’s not a movie we want to make!”

So with SINISTER 2, we tried to find a different way in and one of the things Scott and I did was talk about how much we love dissecting movies. That’s actually how our friendship started: he was a fan of my writing at Ain’t It Cool News. We both really love movies and whenever we worked on a project, we would think about and break down other movies like the type that we’re working on and find the threads between them in what works and what doesn’t work.

One of the things we hate the most about horror sequels is when they have a new protagonist that takes an hour to figure out everything that the audience already knows. There’s nothing worse than being a viewer and going, “Come on! It’s this monster! Haven’t you figured this out yet? Doesn’t anyone read a paper?” And when they catch up, it’s the third act and we get to move at the same pace as the protagonist, so we thought, “Hey, what if we bring So-and-So back? We’ve already proven he’s a great investigator because he figured out everything Oswalt couldn’t with the information, and what if he was caught up between the last movie and this movie because he knows it’s Bughuul but he doesn’t know how to deal with it?”

So that solved that issue in the first ten pages of the script, and it actually lets the audience know that they don’t know as much as they think they know. Anyone can watch the first movie and go, “I know Bughuul and I know the way he works but we’ve never seen him stopped.” The audience doesn’t know how to stop him, and they’ve never seen how he seduces the children to murder, exactly. In fact, we don’t even know exactly how Bughuul works. So all of the sudden, the audience is reminded that they don’t know any of this and we get to unravel backwards into the mysteries of the first one. Once we realized we could do all of that through So-and-So, it just all started falling together.

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FANGORIA: Was there any discussion with bringing back Dr. Jonas as well or was he always a missing piece of the equation?

CARGILL: There was talk of bringing him back but we didn’t know how to approach it since we didn’t know if we could bring Vincent D’Onofrio back. So pretty early on, one of us asked, “What if something also happened to Jonas? What if Jonas started investigating and something happened to him?” That created a tension that something could happen to So-and-So outside of what happens with the family; it’s like So-and-So is playing with fire and he’s not safe even not having lived in those houses and he’s at risk as well. So once we realized Jonas was a way into that concept, having the character back felt like a liability rather than an advantage.

So having him be gone was a huge advantage with our storytelling. Ultimately, it came down to that we thought it was a cooler idea to have him missing than to bring back the character, as much as we enjoyed working with [Vincent D’Onofrio].

FANGORIA: One of the most interesting aspects of SINISTER 2 is it shows the variety of ways people can show tribute to Bughuul. How did that idea come about?

CARGILL: We decided early on that there would be a number of ways to approach Bughuul, and actually, my original concept for the film had the art form that the children use in this one be entirely audio, like vinyl records. I thought that would be cool, creepy and different as well as a radical departure from the first film, which was these silent movies, which would fuel the terror that we could create in our mind. But audio would have been really hard to do on film as audiences go to the movies to watch a movie, so we had to do it again as films this time around. But that is something I’d like to see in the future if SINISTER continues; I’d love to see filmmakers play around with different art forms and the different ways of depicting Bughuul while doing that.

FANGORIA: Blumhouse is known as a very filmmaker friendly production house. Did you and Scott retain the same amount of freedom this time around to work on the script or was there more oversight considering the success of the first film?

CARGILL: No, not really. The great thing about working with Blumhouse is that amidst all their success and failures, their mentality is grounded in the same trust for the artist. They give their artists the freedom to go and explore; sometimes it really works, other times it doesn’t work as well. But they gave us a lot of freedom to play around and there wasn’t any micromanagement telling us, “You need to do this. No, you can’t do that.” They gave us notes, as they did on the first film, but they never encroached on our creativity. They really trusted us, like, “Hey, you guys really nailed it with the first film, so we trust you to try to nail it the second time around.”

Ciaran, on the other hand, had a lot of pressure on him as he was the director. So I didn’t have as much control over the smaller details that I had on the first film, but you never expect that when you’re a screenwriter. On the first film, the co-screenwriter was the director, so the relationship was a little different on set where we could talk about things. Scott had his own ideas with how to shoot it and how to approach the film, and I had nothing to do with that. But he’d come to me and say, “What about this? What do you think of this? What is this scene missing?” So I gave him notes and made sure nothing conflicted with what we did elsewhere in the script. That was something specifically different on SINISTER 2, but Ciaran had our script and had the freedom to make his movie since Blumhouse gave him the same freedom that they gave us.

SINISTER 2 is now in theaters from Gramercy Pictures.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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