Aside from its ending, I actually enjoyed 2010’s The Last Exorcism quite a bit. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it did some interesting things with the found footage medium and conjured up enough scares (however cheap they may have been) to make it worthwhile. It’s the sort of film that would fit perfectly in the afternoon slot of a televised horror movie marathon; nothing too special, but fun enough to not be a waste of time. And so, while I’m always wary of horror sequels, I held out some hope for The Last Exorcism: Part II.
That hope was misplaced. This is a bad film, a film that starts off in a “so bad it’s kind of enjoyable” way, but then quickly descends into “so bad that you just want it to end” territory.
We pick up where The Last Exorcism left off, following the now demon-free Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) as she attempts to return to a normal life after the events of the previous film left her without a home or family. She eventually lands in a girls home, where she finds herself not only adjusting to life with her fellow residents, but also to her own changing beliefs. Eventually she falls in with a group of friends, gets a job cleaning hotel rooms, and finds herself in a budding romance with a coworker.
But demons will be demons, and sure enough, old Abalam comes knocking to take control of Nell once more. In the early going we’re treated to the usual round up of bad omens: strangers staring at Nell from across the street with a dead look in their eyes, radios and televisions turning themselves on, and shadows that linger in the doorway while Nell has her head turned in the other direction. These scenes are at least mildly enjoyable, and the piano-led score is actually relatively creepy in the early going. But once things start escalating the film spirals further and further into detached ridiculousness until its so far down the rabbit hole that its hard to care about anything unfolding on screen.
For a horror movie to work, it needs to do one of two things: either give us a character (or characters) we really care about, or provide us with enough “gotcha” moments to make for a fun ride. The Last Exorcism: Part II fails because it abandons the easy, fun scares in favor of functioning as a character driven horror tale, only its central character ends up being too weak to build a movie around.
That’s a real shame, because in the early going there’s enough to build a decent film on. We find Nell at a time when she’s confronting a number of unsettling things in her life: adjusting to city life after being raised in the backwoods, functioning within a new group of friends after a traumatic experience, and reconciling her budding sexuality with her religious beliefs and superstitions. These are all ideas that can support a great horror film, and yet one by one they are abandoned in favor of following an end of the world scenario that’s ripe with cliche and indifferent plot developments. Ashley Bell has the right face to play Nell, a good blend of cautious optimism and haunted mistrust, but she’s let down by a script that doesn’t give her much (if any) depth beyond her demonic issues. Even the romantic angle with her coworker, a real chance to develop her as a full fledged character, is undercooked to where it comes off as nothing more than a cheap way to push the plot forward. By the time the titular exorcism rolls around, it’s hard to care who wins the tug of war for Nell’s soul. In a movie with exorcism in the title, that’s a real problem.
And then there’s the ending. There is a moment in The Last Exorcism: Part II where the film could’ve ended, cut its losses and spared the audience anything further. But instead in rumbles on like a drunk partygoer, never knowing when enough is enough, squeezing in an epilogue of poor special effects and PG-13 bloodletting that makes the last bits of the film’s 88 minutes feel endless. This is the second time Nell Sweetzer has been subjected to a Last Exorcism. If it turns out there’s another one in store, God help us all.
The Last Exorcism: Part II is in US cinemas now and hits UK screens on March 15th. Check back soon to read our interview with producer Eli Roth!
We are currently seeking Film contributors on WhatCulture. To find out more about the perks of being a Film contributor, click here.