‘The Last Exorcism Part II’ Review: Possessed by Repetition, Lame Jump Scares
The Last Exorcism Part 2 opens with (what else?) fuzzy flashbacks of its predecessor, literally picking up right where the film ends. However, it then resumes the story with a shot of the camera once wielded by ill-fated filmmakers instead of a shot from that camera. This sequel ditches the prospect of the “found footage” film – perhaps because such a technique, however effective in The Last Exorcism, would make this already aimless sequel even more of a turkey.
But more pertinent questions need answers. What happened to the tormented yet naïve and innocent Nell Sweetzer? To Rev. Cotton Marcus, whose troubled faith came to a place of understanding as The Last Exorcism concluded? To the inhabitants of the small, backwoods town? And most importantly, who picked up the camera?
We never discover who “found” the lost footage of Rev. Cotton’s conquest to prove exorcism is a big hoax, with Part 2 opting to instead focus on the life of Nell after The Last Exorcism (hint: this isn't a romantic comedy). The questions about Rev. Marcus and the small-town folk are conveniently, if not incredibly lazily answered, early on in the film through a line of dialogue. Not before, of course, Nell invades a home and provides ample opportunity for a few uninspired frights.
No longer does Nell audition for Cirque du Soleil with eye-popping contortionism despite terrorizing people for a few minutes at the beginning. As she moves to a home where troubled young women work through their issues, Part 2 raises the question of whether ideologies in which one was raised define that person. It’s a fascinating inquiry – certainly more intriguing than anything that happens in the film. The exploration of that answer occupies the first few minutes of Part 2. By this time, I’m wondering why most of the reviews for the film have been so harsh and dismissive. It seems to be navigating the narrow roads of a tricky dilemma in – oh, the question doesn’t matter anymore?
After all, there’s no time to answer a question so deep and complex when Part 2 has less than 90 minutes to incorporate the jump scares that come about thanks to Nell’s previous experiences. Actually, it’s around 65 minutes by this point, so throw in those edits and music cues! The subtler moments of hopeful terror present themselves as even more laughable and predictable. A radio switches frequencies until demonic voices take over – sadly not NPR but thankfully not Fox News. Snow on the television screen gives way to – you guessed it! – flashbacks to The Last Exorcism (sadly not Psycho
). A phone rings even after Nell removes its cord from the telephone plug (but at least the filmmakers didn’t try this scare with a cell phone). Yes, Part 2 is that kind of movie.
Instead of doing anything particularly interesting, Nell now flails about in her new surroundings, mostly waiting to be scared by malevolent forces yet to withdraw their grasp from her. Okay, she gets a job, makes friends (sort of, but more on that later), and develops an understandably more-awkward-than-usual first romantic relationship. But even these developments hardly happen on the screen and serve only as devices to make (barely) sensible the absurdity around the corner. It becomes clear at this point that Part 2 only lamely reintroduces the primary plot point of its predecessor as the lead for 30 minutes and fills the last hour with tropes of modern-day horror films.
I simultaneously longed for a Part 2 that took an experimental approach (note: “found footage” is hardly experimental after such successes as The Blair Witch Project, Chronicle, Paranormal Activity, and, well, The Last Exorcism), one that explores what happens as The Last Exorcism concludes – or, more simply put for those who might not know what I’m talking about, what happens between its resolution and the silly invasion of a household that basically opens Part 2 – in one take.
Still, I’ll give credit where credit is due: Ashley Bell, who so wonderfully portrayed Nell in The Last Exorcism, impresses once again even with these constraints. “No boys,” she shakily tells her sort-of beau when asked about her virginity. Bell still interprets this character as an innocent yet fragile product of an unfortunate upbringing and an even less ideal encounter with a demon named Abalam.
Other performances in Part 2 suffice but are hardly effective. Well, one exception might be present in the case of the actress who plays Nell’s closest confidante – if that’s even the right word since Part 2 explores so little of its protagonist. She’s an enigma, about whom we know not whether to trust or keep as far away from us as possible. It seems this actress hits all the notes she’s should as this friend-or-foe character, but it’s difficult to say even that much about her work.
Part 2 casts shadows of doubt on this character in more ways than one, taking her personality from friendly concern for Nell to an unusual hatred of her. The film raises no particular reasons for this personality switch. Maybe too much footage was left on the floor of the cutting room. (On second thought, Part 2 already feels far too long at 88 minutes - forget I mentioned that.) Also, I’m interested to see Tarra Riggs, who gives more than is necessary to the film’s primary mentor figure, in other, better roles.
Products of the horror genre (perhaps more than those of other film genres) should leave an unshakable effect on your psyche, like Paranormal Activity or even, again, The Last Exorcism. That’s how to most properly judge the merits of a horror film. I readily admit to jumping in my seat at the times director Ed Gass-Donnelly and the music cues command me to do so, but Part 2 serves as nothing more than a lame excuse to force these repetitive jump scares.
These moments ideally build tension, heightening in suspense until you’re too scared to dart your eyes to the left or to the right, and just as scared to keep your eyes right where they are. Part 2 conjures these moments, only to throw away the buildups and the moments themselves, which you realize are utterly forgettable and laughable as your body again rests comfortably in your seat (and then move to yet another buildup-and-scare scene). Even worse is that these moments almost always end the same way. After its introduction, Part 2 becomes so repetitive you wonder, even with animals flying into buildings and people slashing their own throats, if anything will ever actually happen.
Providing a swift kick in the pants, Part 2 concludes with an ending that betrays all we know about Nell. It’s bad enough that she serves no purpose other than to drift into supernatural situations that fail to elicit terror beyond a momentary jolt of the body, but it’s even worse that the script thrusts Nell to make a decision so unlike herself only to provide a means to its end.
It isn't difficult to imagne Part 2 was written and conceived with its silly ending in mind – one that would logically forbid a sequel but probably won’t since the film recovered its production budget over the weekend – from the outset, with the only mission being to fill the spaces in between. Sure, this is nothing new to the world of filmmaking, and some brilliant films, I’m sure, have followed such a process. But there’s nothing to admire when it feels so blatant; there’s hardly even an attempt to hide such lack of innovation.
Part 2 trades the buildup of terror for cheap scares that get off the ground less than you jumped from your seat. More fascinatingly, but also more confusingly and stupidly, the film raises important questions it never bothers to answer. One might interpret certain aspects of the film to exemplify the age-old trope of horror films that young women aren’t safe if they do so much as think about sexuality or romance, but even if that’s the intent, the film fails to make all the dots connect.
The film also sets up characters in multiple ways only to do nothing with them. Once again, Bell throws herself into the role of Nell and does wonders with it, but a film that, you know, focuses on Nell and not the world around her would have been nice. To add insult to fatal injury, Nell betrays her own personality to provide the ending Part 2
so desperately wanted.
If I haven’t clearly answered the impending question of whether Part 2 conjures true frights, let me just say this: If I lose sleep this week, being subjected to another viewing of Paranormal Activity or The Last Exorcism will be to blame.