The Last Exorcism might be one of the best titles to come out of the recent found footage boom, perhaps also one of the best horror movies of the last five years. It took the form of documentary footage following Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a preacher who’s decided to expose exorcism for the placebo/scam that it is. However, in the case of young Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), things rapidly get out of control as it looks like there’s more going on than at first glance. It was witty, had a strong concept, stronger performances and the found footage was immersive rather than a distraction. While it’s ending was very divisive, it was actually a brave and powerful way to end the story. Now we have a follow up The Last Exorcism Part II (aka Beginning of the End). Unfortunately, this might be The Exorcist II: The Heretic to the first film’s Exorcist…[Please note: in discussing this film, it will involve spoilers for the surprise ending of the first film. If you haven’t seen the first yet, and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t read further.]
After the events on the farm in Ivanwood, Nell is found miles away and believed to be the only survivor. She is soon taken into a care home in New Orleans, where she seems to be recovering well, though unable to properly remember what exactly happened. However, strange presences, events and visions plague her. It seems that the force she was a victim of before isn’t finished with her yet but it may want something else this time.
The film does have some good points. It was a wise move to not go down the found footage route again, as in franchises like Paranormal Activity, it does strain credibility that the forces of darkness always seem to be drawn to people who obsessively film everything. Also, there’s a revelation about the demon’s motivations later on that is kind of a new twist to this sort of story, though it’s not used to a full potential. Finally, props should go to Ashley Bell, reminding us all why she was one of the breakout talents of the first movie.
That unfortunately brings us onto the biggest problem this movie has with its predecessor. The Last Exorcism was firmly the story of Cotton Marcus, a character study of a figure that has to face the possibility that what he’s been peddling for years isn’t the con he thought it was. A character as fascinating as that is what this movie desperately needs and you end up yearning for him to turn up. What’s more, the character ambiguities and debates raised by the very nature of his character are gone, so thematically there’s very little to Part 2.
As for what’s in their place, there’s a point about The Exorcist that many similar movies seem to have completely missed, this one included. In The Exorcist, Regan, the girl who was possessed, was not the main character, and in a good demonic possession movie, the analogous character should never, ever be the protagonist. The whole reason why a possession is such a scary concept is that it is a loss of control, an individual no longer has any agency in their own actions. For the main character of the movie, that’s not really a position you want them to be in, a decent protagonist must always have a strong choice on how their story develops. In this film, because of the situation she’s in, Nell is a “pinball protagonist”, not really having any real say in what she’s doing or what she’s involved in. This means that the film is basically bouncing her from vaguely scary scene to vaguely scary scene, to a climax that has you going “Well what was the point of all this then?”.
The final nail in this film’s coffin is the fact that it’s just not scary. Most of the big shocks aren’t that shocking because they aren’t really built up to, don’t affect the story and have no real consequences. Plus, since we’re not sure what’s actually real and what’s in Nell’s head, we have no idea if any them have actual stakes to them. Nearly all the things the dark forces in this movie do to Nell don’t actually have a real purpose, such as having the footage recorded from the first turn up on YouTube. (Who did that? The cultists? The demon? Do the legions of Hell have accounts with Google? What’s more, WHY?). Chances are you’ve seen many of these effects done better elsewhere; there are better demonic visions in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a more shocking levitation in Ghostbusters and so on.
This one is just a waste; even if one was determined to carry on the story from The Last Exorcism, turning the story into one of the most aimless and generic feeling possession movies ever is not a good way to go about it. What’s more, it actually undermines certain points about the original, like how an actual exorcism is performed at the end, despite the whole thesis of part one. It doesn’t live up to the potential or continuity of the first, it really wastes a decent actress’ talents by having her do little but look scared all the time, and it’s just. Plain. DULL. There’s no reason to rent the DVD, not for the very basic talking head extra features or the “shocking uncut version” that leaves one profoundly unshocked. Stick with the first one, at least it has the awesome banana-bread sermon in.