A perfunctory sequel with a perfunctory title, The Last Exorcism Part II is surely not an excursion desired by many audiences. The original film, a clever found footage venture, proved to be one of the overplayed gimmick’s strongest entries of recent years, delivering a wiry, postmodern spin on the glut of possession movies that have clogged out cinematic arteries ever since The Exorcist spewed its first batch of pea soup.
It appears that in trying to milk the modestly-admired name of the previous film, Part II is just as imaginative as its moniker, upending everything that worked about the original film and likely making audiences feel sorry for the film’s likable lead, Ashley Bell, who tries her damnedest to make us care.
It is generally agreed that the weakest thing about the first film was its departure point; after a clever reveal in which the typical exorcism shtick is entirely turned on its noggin, director Daniel Stamm – who has nothing to do with this sequel – opted for a more familiar return to grand guignol, and an obnoxious final shot in particular.
The original just about got away with its unsavoury ending, but in continuing directly from that uninspired narrative through-point, the film gets its first strike, and promptly racks up a second as audiences soon enough realise that the inventive employment of found footage is nowhere to be seen here; Part II is a straight-up, standard fare horror flick with no bells, whistles or even the slightest sense of excitement.
If the first film propelled us into the milieu from minute one, Part II takes at least a good half-hour to go anywhere, as a mentally disturbed Nell (Bell) is moved into a home for girls, with the hope that it might stabilise her mental state. Even once things begin happening, though, it’s the same contorted body gimmicks that were wince-inducing in the previous film, but now feel tired and lazy.
While the original film also benefited hugely from some self-aware religious jibes courtesy of Patrick Fabian’s Reverend Marcus – who is sorely missed here, presumed dead – the laughs in Part II are largely unintentional, from a scene in which Nell gets freaked out by carnies, to lewd phone calls, YouTube clips of her possession, lecherous guys who hang around in churches, inane exposition (“The demon loves you”), and eventually, the prospect that the entity might eventually be transferred into the body of a chicken.
There’s a certain surreal quality to several of these scenes, though the tone throughout clearly suggests that we’re supposed to be taking this dead seriously. The problem is that nothing musters even the faintest pulse; the jump scares could be predicted by a metronome, and the pronounced lack of gore furthers the tedium.
Nell’s sexual awakening angle meanwhile flirts with taking the Carrie route but lacks the nuance or conviction to go the whole hog. It’s a shame, as Bell is a strong young actress who throws herself completely into the role, and is subsequently wasted, though perhaps the only one who truly acquits themselves from ridicule.
It’s a bad sign when the best moments in a horror film are probably the scenes in which Nell bonds with the other girls at the home; at least they’re the only ones that feel remotely genuine. While the final five minutes do begin to serve up an interesting prospect, it’s too little too late, and the inevitable tease for Part III will surely only produce a similar tawdry effort prepped to part you wish more cash as you “anticipate” Part IV.
Poor Ashley Bell, a talented and capable actress done few favours in a film that is thoroughly risible from start to finish.
The Last Exorcism Part II is in UK cinemas from Friday.
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