The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)
(15) Running time: 88 minutes
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Writers: Ed Gass-Donnelly, Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
The Last Exorcism, directed brilliantly by Daniel Stamm, may have divided opinion, but I firmly believe that the film was a stunning, superb piece of terror. The joining forces of the found footage genre (at the height of its new found popularity) and the exorcism horror was a masterstroke, which as we all know has now been copied but never bettered. The first film, which was produced by Eli Roth (again producing here), was never meant to spawn a sequel, and the ‘Last’ of the title was indeed that. In The Last Exorcism, the word ‘Last’ meant exactly what it should have, and in the film it was to be Minister Cotton Markus’ “last exorcism” as he had grown tired of the fakes wanting to be exorcised. The first film had meaning to its title, and it showed in the tortured soul of Markus as he went out to do one final exorcism, document his journey, and hopefully leave his exorcism days behind. He hadn’t prepared for meeting Nell (Ashley Bell) and the Sweetzer family, and the powerful, traumatic film ended in tragedy with a ferocious shock ending. The plan to just make one film should have stayed that way…
The Last Exorcism Part II follows on directly after the shocking events of the first film, but ditches the found footage aspect which made the first film so incredibly frightening. In a painful reminder of the brilliance which came before, we get a montage of recap scenes from the first film before we settle down to the events of the sequel. After the recap, we open with an extremely effective scene which introduces a returning Nell, and will very probably scare the living daylights out of the viewer. After witnessing this superb opening, I was in high spirits, wondering just what all the negative reviews were waffling on about for this film. Sadly, as the film progressed, I began to understand the complaints, and I must confess that I truly felt upset as the film fell apart after such a strong opening. I really, honestly thought that relative newcomer Ed Gass-Donnelly might have the skills to pull off a decent sequel, but unfortunately the film ended up feeling like a sequel made for money rather than actually having an good idea.
The film see’s Nell put into a home for girls after being discovered during the opening scene, and here she attempts to build a new life for herself, having forgotten the events from the previous film. A changed woman, Nell gets to grips with the modern world after living in the country house and cut off from a normal life. Seeing Nell discover rock music, fashion and makeup is actually very emotional, and the director brilliantly displays just how out of touch Nell has been. You will feel for her character, and Ashley Bell is a revelation in her portrayal of a haunted, broken young woman desperate to improve her life. However, the evil Demon known as Abalam wants Nell back, and slowly but surely, he is winning her over.
The Last Exorcism Part II is basically Nell’s struggle to have a normal life as she see’s visions, and sinister characters and shapes coming to get her. After making friends with the girls living in the home (including Gwen, played by Julia Garner), Nell heads off to a street parade, and the menacing visions begin. A man pretending to be a statue delivers the films second genuine jump out of your seat moment, and strange, masked men appear in the background. Right now the film is shaping up to actually be pretty good, but sadly the director loses it about half an hour in. Let’s focus on the good stuff for now though, as there is a lot to enjoy in the early stages, and the finale also delivers some much needed urgency (although the finale is sadly quite silly). The impending doom of evil coming for Nell engulfs the film, and Nell is a character you can easily connect with and feel emotion for. Bell delivers a truly exceptional performance, and sadly it is the rest of the cast and the poor script which let her down. The films pace is slow, but during the first half this works: you don’t want to see too much too soon, and tension and creepy atmosphere is conjured out of simple scare tactics which often work well. The old dog barking trick is used to great effect (and repeated with a cheer worthy moment of brilliance), a very unsettling scene in a Church involving dark shadows and dead birds, Nell’s increasingly violent visions, this all works early on. The camera often sneaks around, making the viewer feel like we are Abalam, quietly waiting for our chance to pounce. The use of a Youtube video, and a creepy phonecall all work relatively well too. It is impressive stuff, but the film quickly loses its touch.
Slow build up turns into a desperation for urgency in the film. Yes the build up works, but to an extent, and the film really needed to kick into gear at some point but never does. Interactions between characters have zero tension, and the music is simply too quiet to actually add anything to the proceedings. A romance story is terribly wasted, and poorly executed, the script is often awful, and with a cast struggling to hold a sentence together with any actual believability, the films flow simply collapses. The urgency is a major issue here, but the scares quickly dry out too, and the cast deliver wooden performances (Bell is the exception) and you will forget who the characters are as fast as they come and go. After an hour I honestly had to question just what the hell had been going on all this time, it felt like loads of stuff had happened, but none of it actually meant anything. In short, The Last Exorcism Part II feels incredibly empty, and the director appears to have had no idea what to do with the story after the impressive beginning.
The actual exorcism is baffling, and uses a different form of exorcism to the first film, but again it feels like the scene is simply thrown in because the word “exorcism” is in the title. It is short, silly and the build up to it feels ridiculous, as does the exorcism itself. There is finally a sense of urgency in the finale, but urgency for what? Between the opening ten or twenty minutes to the finale, it honestly felt like nothing actually happened, and the film is sadly very forgettable when it is over. The title “The Last Exorcism Part II” should have hinted at the film being a lazy, cheap gag attempting to follow on from an original, and brilliant idea, and this sequel delivers exactly what the title suggested. A poor, lazy follow up which should never have actually been made in the first place. Try as I might to like this film (and believe me I really did try), The Last Exorcism Part II simply does not work, and should have never even been suggested in the first place.