Directed by: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Premise: A sequel to the 2010 film. Following the events of the original picture, cult survivor Nell (Ashley Bell) is taken in at a halfway house and begins to assemble a normal life but she is haunted by supernatural phenomena.
What Works: The Last Exorcism was a found footage movie but the sequel has been made in a traditional omniscient style of feature filmmaking. The switch works well enough. The found footage gimmick was already well worn in 2010 and the dramatic style allows the moviemakers to do more interesting things. As with the first film, the highlight of The Last Exorcism Part II is the performance by Ashley Bell as Nell. Typically when a character is played as innocent those qualities come across as stupid but Bell’s performances in these films convey earnestness. This is a difficult impression to create, especially in jaded audiences, but Bell does it. Some of that empathy is gained through the actress’ angelic look but it’s also the product of Nell’s predicament. The tragedy of this young woman is her inability to grasp the significance of what is going on around her and the lack of anyone in her life who can help her. Had the movie played to this strength it could have been a much better picture.
What Doesn’t: Although The Last Exorcism Part II abandons the found footage gimmick, it shares and amplifies many of the shortcomings of the previous film. The biggest fault of the original Last Exorcism was its ending, which was a stupid and tagged on resolution. The sequel is cursed with having to start from that position but the moviemakers don’t manage to do anything interesting with the premise. The existence of the first film ruins a lot of the potential suspense for the sequel. When Nell is introduced she is unable to remember what happened to her but the audience already knows that from watching the first film, and so viewers are forced to spend the bulk of the movie waiting for Nell to remember so that the story can move forward. What she does remember isn’t conveyed in a coherent way and more importantly the audience never learns anything meaningful about those events. It is the job of a sequel to expand the story of the first movie by raising the stakes, complicating the plotlines, and redefining the audience’s understanding of the original picture. The Last Exorcism Part II fails at that. The moviemakers don’t seem to have considered the implications of the first film and the sequel is largely a retread of clichés of the demonic possession story genre. The sequel has the fragments of some new ideas and like the first two-thirds of the original Last Exorcism they are compelling concepts but those ideas are handled ineptly. This makes the movie even more frustrating than the average possession thriller. Movies whose makers only intend to be average–and succeed–are generally more acceptable than a movie that flirts with big or exciting concepts only to waste them in a bad script. Whatever the faults of the original film it was mostly coherent and even thought provoking at times. The Last Exorcism Part II is just confusing. The story has no focus and characters drift in and out of the plot without introduction or purpose. But the filmmakers’ worst offense isn’t their intellectual pretension or even their narrative failures but their failure to frighten. The movie lacks an air of creepiness or dread. The soundtrack frequently thunders with overdone effects, obtusely forcing a reaction from its audience, but the filmmakers do not demonstrate the filmmaking craft to make this a consistently frightening or engaging movie.
Bottom Line: The Last Exorcism Part II is a frustrating film because it is on the cusp of some interesting ideas but those ideas are undermined by basic moviemaking failures. It’s a shame because Ashley Bell’s central performance is so good.
Episode: #430 (March 10, 2013)