Review: The Last Exorcism Part II / Cert: 15 / Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark / Release Date: September 30th
The Last Exorcism was one of the better examples of the many horror films that rode the wave of found footage shockers in the wake of Paranormal Activity. The story had a small crew following a preacher and self-proclaimed exorcist as he visited a remote farmhouse belonging to Louis Sweetzer and his daughter Nell (Bell). It was Nell who would require the power of Christ to compel her as she convulsed and twisted her way towards a dramatic ending that saw her as the sole survivor. What happened next was anybody’s guess. Or at least it was.
In this second chapter, having found her way into the arms of social services, Nell is promptly housed at a home for troubled girls. What follows is a Carrie-style awakening as the formerly closeted Nell discovers life and love, all while the demon that possessed her tries to find a way back in. It’s hardly the apocalyptic scenario the ending of the first film alluded to.
The Last Exorcism Part II (which is, in itself, a ludicrous title, you might as well call it ‘The Absolutely Last Exorcism, We Promise’) also becomes one of the few horror sequels to make the switch from ‘found footage’ to conventional filmmaking. It’s an uncomfortable transition that has had little success in the past (Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows still stands as the worst example) and sadly, it doesn’t work particularly well in this case either. As in Blair Witch 2, footage from the first movie is discovered (this time on YouTube), but it’s a brief, almost throwaway moment that adds little to the story. Also, like Book of Shadows, this suffers from two massive missing elements: the original filmmaker’s involvement and any genuine scares whatsoever.
It’s the latter that is the film’s biggest downfall. Time after time, the old ‘cat jumping out of a garbage can’ scenario is thrown at you to get a cheap scare. From dogs jumping up from behind fences to people popping their heads around walls, the same gag is used over and over, which only serves to highlight the lack of any real threat or tension. And while you get the feeling that the slow-burning plot is building to a conclusion, when it does, it’s by no means worth the wait. Then, the final shot (without giving anything away) breaks the fourth wall that director Ed Gass-Donnelly went to such pains to introduce.
What does work is Ashley Bell’s portrayal of Nell. One of the primary reasons the first film was so convincing was Bell’s ability to blend heart-wrenching innocence with pant-soiling evil. While this go-round is more Carrie-revisited, she still holds up her end with a touching and believable performance that quite frankly deserved a better sequel. Unfortunately for her, this disappointing chapter was so abysmal, that a third last exorcism is most unlikely. Thank God for that.