Following the events of the first movie in which the Reverend Cotton Marcus re-discovered his lost faith and sacrificed himself to taking down the demon Abalam from hatching it’s plans, it seems that the only survivor of the event was the object of Abalam’s possession, the young girl Nell Sweetzer. Nell has escaped her fate and now begins to put her life back together, with help from the people of a halfway house in New Orleans. Nell starts to turn her life around, but soon discovers that Abalam wasn’t destroyed at all, and soon her life begins to take another horrific turn.
That’s the premise to The Last Exorcism Part II, once again from producer Eli Roth, but this time with a new director and writer in tow, director Ed Gass-Donnelly who also serves up the screenplay with writer Damien Chazelle. It’s certainly understandable why a sequel to the first would be made; it was a cheap production and it made a boatload of dough… and, it just happened to be a pretty darn good movie as well. Even though the title of the first would indicate that it should be the only word on the subject, I’m certainly willing to give a the idea of a sequel a shot as long as it offers up something that’s just as catchy as the original.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the case with The Last Exorcism Part II and what we have here just seems to totally dilute the effectiveness of the original. The first film is very much part of the “found footage” sub-genre, and it’s pretty effective, but what adds to it’s effectiveness is the other story which was what Cotton Marcus was doing in trying to expose the “reality” of exorcisms. That character was absolutely magnetic in the first film thanks to one terrific performance from actor Patrck Fabien. This sequel decides right off the bat that it’s not going to go the “found footage” route and that it will present itself as a traditional narrative, with the main focus being on the Nell Sweetzer character. No disrespect meant at all to actress Ashley Bell who’s reprising her role here, but the way this is presented, she’s just not strong enough to carry the film. But that’s only the start of the film’s problems.
As this movie starts off, it pretty much follows horror tropes that you’ve seen time and again. The opening few minutes are pretty good, but after that it falls into predictability- Nell starts to get better, she makes friends, she gets a job, she discovers a boy her likes her and it’s all peppered with little bits that act as jump scares that slowly start to unhinge the character again. That’s fine if you can come up with a way in which it all pays off effectively, but here, the solution from the filmmakers comes at us from left field.
Spoilers ahead here – two thirds through the film, the footage from the documentary that was being made around Cotton Marcus is discovered and has made it’s way to YouTube. Nell is discovered by a guy on the street who recognizes her from the video and soon starts to suffer from the consequences of that. As a crowd starts to gather, Nell is grabbed by a VooDoo practitioner named Cecile who says that her “group” has been watching her since she’s come to New Orleans, though this is the first overt way that we the audience are seeing it. Cecile takes Nell and tells her about her group, I believe it was called the Order of the Red Hand, and then they in turn try to help Nell by performing another exorcism on her. Now this would be all well and good if this group had been introduced right from the start, but as it is introduced, it just comes out of nowhere and just feels like it was put in because the filmmakers couldn’t think of anything else to do. What should’ve been done (or at least what I would’ve done- though I like to think I wouldn’t even have made a sequel in the first place) is that the “found footage” format should’ve been retained and this group should’ve been introduced from the start, filming what they were doing as a matter of posterity. You could’ve gone through the same motions of “curing” Nell, but seeing this from a group that was absolutely counter to the first group who were trying to raise Abalam with the “found footage” format adding much more needed immediacy to the events. In addition, this could’ve added a character or two (say like a more fleshed out Cecile) who could’ve added a whole other layer to the film, just as Cotton Marcus did in the first.
Ashley Bell isn’t the only actor from the first film to reprise her role here. Louis Herthum, who played her father is also back. Nell’s father starts to show up as tempting visions from Abalam to try and reclaim Nell. Again, not a bad idea but the execution is what’s at question; in the first film Herthum was clean shaven and when he shows up here he has a beard. Now when I first saw him with the beard, I didn’t even think it was the same actor, but as he showed up later, I did recognize him. This is just sloppy visual continuity, and there’s no excuse for it, or there should be no excuse for it (I get the feeling that the production was only going to get Herthum for a brief time, he needed the beard for another part and couldn’t shave it off for the time frame that he was needed for).
I don’t know who is ultimately to blame for this mess, but really this project should never have even been greenlit in the first place. I’ve read an interview with Eli Roth in which Roth has talked about decisions to go certain ways here, and I’d like to think that he should know better, but really I can’t say how much control he even had in the first place. I didn’t write a review of it, but I can say the same thing a movie from last year that Roth also produced called The Man with the Iron Fists written, directed and starring The RZA. This was also a pretty sloppy mess and what I came away from with was that as a writer, director and actor, The RZA is a good musician. I got the feeling that Roth’s connection with that was to basically make sure the train was running on time and I get the feeling that may be the case with The Last Exorcism Part II as well.
To be fair, I do think Ed Gass-Donnelly has a good eye and I certainly like the composition of the shots here. I also think the idea of the Order of the Red Hand is a good one, I just wish it hadn’t been so clumsily inserted in the film and instead it should’ve been the focus of the movie. Even with that said, The Last Exorcism Part II is still a huge mess and should just be avoided entirely. Between this and Texas Chainsaw 3D, so far 2013 isn’t a good year for horror films.