THE LAST EXORCISM PART II
Movie Review by L.L. Soares
Before sitting down to review this one, I went back and read my Cinema Knife Fight review (with Nick Cato) of the first LAST EXORCISM movie from 2010, and it refreshed a lot of the back story for me. Back then, I gave the first movie three knives, and it was based mostly on the performance of Patrick Fabian as Reverend Cotton Marcus. The movie started out like a documentary of Marcus and his vocation as a preacher and exorcist. The way Fabian played him was likeable and charismatic, and I really enjoyed the movie until the final scene. The funny thing is, looking back at it now, I really don’t mind the ending at all, and it’s grown on me.
Which brings us to this new movie, THE LAST EXORCISM PART II. Based on the trailer, I thought this was just another cynical attempt to cash in on a movie that did pretty well at the box office (and cost a small amount to make) by producing a quickie sequel. But I have to admit, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
In the second film, Cotton Marcus is nowhere to be seen, since he pretty much met his doom at the end of the first movie. This time around, the focus is on Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), who was also a standout in the first film. She was the girl Marcus went to exorcize, and she was convincing as a poor, lost innocent undergoing a terrifying ordeal at the “hands” of a demon.
Things begin not long after the events of the first film. As PART II opens, a couple find Nell (again played by Bell) in their house late at night (she gets into bed with the husband and even scratches him, when the wife gets up to go to the bathroom). The scene where they track her down to the kitchen, huddled up on a counter and looking deranged, is actually quite effective. She ends up in a mental hospital, and it’s explained that her family died during the night that ended the first film, when her father’s house caught on fire. She is scared, confused and clearly traumatized by what she has gone through. We also see that everyone is treating her as the victim of a cult, which makes sense, but it doesn’t address the fact that she was truly possessed by a demon in the first film. Something the medical community would avoid.
Not long after being admitted to the hospital, Nell is determined to be pretty harmless to herself and to others, and is released to a halfway house in New Orleans. The place is overseen by Frank Merle (Muse Watson), and Nell makes some new friends, including her roommate Gwen (Julia Garner), who at times seems to have a cruel streak, along with Daphne (Erica Michelle) and Mo (Sharice Angelle Williams). Nell gets a job as a maid at a motel, and even finds herself attracted to a boy who works at the motel, named Chris (Spencer Treat Clark). She’s a little strange, but the others seem to accept her, and Nell starts to slowly adapt to a fairly normal life, which is amazing, considering the events of the first film.
But, as we know going into the theater, a normal life is not really in the cards for Nell. The demon that possessed her in the first film, Abalom, soon makes its presence known, and makes it clear it wants her back. The weirdness happens slowly, with the odd passerby on the street saying something cryptic to her. A street performer (who pretends to be a statue in the park) following her during some festivities. When she goes into a church for refuge, even there a preacher seems to have a link to Abalom and tells her it is useless to resist, as strange figures appear in the church’s windows. Nell flees in a panic.
There are also times when her father, Louis (Louis Herthum, who also played the role in the first film) appears to speak to her. Once, late at night, she sees him sitting in the chair across from her bed, and he tells her he is trying to protect her. Is he real or just a figment of her tortured imagination? Other strange things happen when she’s asleep, like the fact that one of her hands often caresses her when she’s unconscious, as if it no longer belongs to her, and she levitates and twists into painful-looking shapes, without ever being aware of it.
One particularly uncomfortable moment involves the other girls finding a video on Youtube of her being exorcized by Reverend Marcus in the first film. She is twisting violently into unnatural shapes, and speaking in voices, and the other girls are both fascinated and scared by what they see. Nell comes into the room, and when she finds out what they’re watching, she screams at them to shut it off.
Some of the people around her aren’t what they seem to be, but not all of them are in league with the devil. A woman named Cecile (Tarra Riggs) has made it her mission to save Nell from the forces that want her, and she sets up a meeting with some like-minded friends. Can they save her from the forces of darkness? Well, you’ll have to see THE LAST EXORCISM PART II to find out.
Right off the bat, I want to make it clear that not everyone is going to like this movie. First off, there are long stretches where nothing seems to happen. It’s almost more of a character study than a horror movie, as we watch Nell slowly adapt to her new life and become a part of normal society, something she was never allowed to do when she lived on her father’s farm. We want her to find happiness with her new friends and with Chris. But we know it’s only a matter of time before the satanic being that once shared her skin comes back. The movie is not fast-paced. It takes its time, and there are long gaps between scares. And anyone looking for a roller coaster ride isn’t going to find it here.
Strangely, I didn’t mind the pacing or the lack of scares at all. Nell is so interesting that I really wanted to see more of her life. I found her struggle for normalcy to be touching, and believable. And even if it comes off more as a drama at times, I didn’t see that as a bad thing. Ashley Bell gives a terrific performance here as a girl who has endured great horrors and struggles to transcend them. It’s really a showcase for her as an actress (just like the first LAST EXORCISM film was a showcase for actor Patrick Fabian) and in that sense, I enjoyed it. I also thought her looks worked very well in defining her character. She has an odd face that sometimes looks almost like an old woman’s and other times seems rather pretty. This odd quality gives physical presence to the confusion and turmoil going on inside her. I was really impressed with Bell, and thought she did a great job as the lead in this film. In fact, watching PART II, I actually found myself wanting to spend more time with this character, and I would actually look forward to a PART III if the same filmmakers were involved.
One thing I didn’t like was that, in trying to present things almost as a drama, the filmmakers felt the need to pop in some “false scares” to keep the audience awake. Stuff like dogs suddenly barking loudly in the dark, or images in Nell’s mind (visions or dreams) suddenly popping up on screen and screaming. I thought these things were unnecessary, but I’m sure that the people involved thought it was a legitimate choice, since the movie is pretty quiet for the most part, and it was their way of reminding us this is a horror movie, even if it is an unusual one. And not all audience members would be as patient without a few jolts added here and there. For the most part, LAST EXORCISM PART II is actually a good example of “quiet horror,” which means it’s not really inhibited by its normally dreadful PG-13 rating.
Also, the ending this time around was a little predictable, and almost had a CARRIE feel to it, but it still worked for me. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see similarities between Nell’s story and Carrie White’s.
I also thought it was interesting that PART II is filmed in a much different way than the first one. The first film was presented as a fake documentary, focused mostly on Reverend Marcus, and it worked very well in that way. You would think PART II would adopt the same gimmick, but it doesn’t. I thought it would hurt this movie to be filmed in a more traditional, straightforward way, but it actually works pretty well here. To film it as another “found footage” film would defy logic (who would be filming this fragile girl struggling to stay sane?) and the gimmick would get in the way of the storytelling in this one. So it was a good decision to leave the gimmicks behind in PART II.
By the end of the film, it is quite clear that this is a horror movie. But leading up to there, it could almost be the story of a girl dealing with mental illness, trying to get better after painful events. As I watched it, it made me think of how very different the original THE EXORCIST (1973) is from its first sequel, the quieter and more thoughtful EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977). Both THE HERETIC and LAST EXORCISM PART II took risks by not being rehashes of the films that came before them, and I find that much more refreshing than seeing the same thing all over again.
Aside from Bell and Herthum, this new movie has a completely different team involved. Daniel Stamm, who directed the first film, has now been now replaced by Ed Gass-Donnelly, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Damien Chazelle. Gass-Donnelly’s previous work consists of several short films and two other features, THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY (2007) and SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (2010), which also sound like small, quirky films, and I might just seek them out.
Eli Roth is one of the producers of this film (he also produced the first one), and I still think his name is associated with product that is a little more interesting than the standard fare.
Most fans of horror films probably won’t like this film, and will wonder what I see in it. But the truth is, the fact that this movie is so different from the first one, and takes risks that would alienate some theater-goers, endears itself to me all the more. I’m a fan of movies that take chances and confound expectations. And in that sense, THE LAST EXORICSM PART II is a success. I give it three knives.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives THE LAST EXORCISM PART II ~three knives.