Goddammit, they ruined a perfectly smart horror movie with a perfectly stupid sequel. To be certain, I loved The Last Exorcism (so hard it hurt) for its wonderful character study (of a preacher working through a spiritual crisis) and exploration of the science vs. religion debate. That was a subtle movie with nearly perfect pacing that steadily built until the story turned inward onto itself and danced upon the soul of its own admittedly unreliable narrator who just happened to be the Diamond Dave of preachers. All of it culminated into a jarring twist ending that expertly left more questions than answers, and it left people wondering what exactly happened to Reverend Cotton Marcus and the rest of the rather intriguing characters of the story. Ultimately, the first film also refused to take a clear position on whether or not Nell was actually possessed or just fucking with everyone. And you know what? I really liked not knowing the answer to that question.
The Last Exorcism II, unfortunately, answers that question immediately. While the first movie was amazing in its restraint, the second movie lacks all manner of subtlety, and it abolishes all sense of mystery and suspense. It turns out everyone died in that sacrificial fire at the end of the first movie except for Nell (the still bendy and boot-loving Ashley Bell), who presumably gave birth to a demon baby and survived. It turns out Nell really was possessed by the demon Abalam, and worst of all, the compelling main character of the last movie (which was originally even called Cotton) is now completely gone. Oh, his voice shows up on a YouTube video (Nell’s exorcism has gone viral, and she’s a star, baby), and Cotton speaks through a radio, but otherwise, he’s gone, gone, gone. And so is the main reason for watching this sequel. We do learn that Abalam is back, and he wants Nell in a very bad way, but it’s different this time because he loves her. Last time, he only meant to impregnate her, but this time, he’s got the warmies. Whatever.
Yet we persist with this review, so here’s what happens: A disoriented Nell crawls out of the woods, and into a suburban couple’s bed. That doesn’t work out too well, so the girl is summarily shuffled into a New Orleans hospital and then a transitional home for troubled young girls like herself. The dude who runs the girls’ home tells Nell, “Whatever you’re running from, it won’t find you here.” Obviously, that’s not the case, but we know that from the very beginning. Naturally, Nell is a bit of a mess and remembers bits and pieces of what happened (even the demon’s name) but seems determined to put the past behind her and convinces herself that none of it was real. She makes some friends, and after a few months, she gets settled into a job as a motel maid (because motels are supposed to be creepy), and everything seems to be going well for awhile. However, if this protracted interlude was meant to build suspense, it doesn’t quite work that way. Instead, it inspires boredom.
None of this is Ashley Bell’s fault, of course, because she works the hell out of every facet of Nell’s personality. Likewise, the production values of this movie are excellent, and you won’t miss the (somewhat) shaky, handheld-camera, found-footage gimmick of the first movie even a bit. The problem here is the script, which lacks all manner of innovation until the final twenty minutes. In a sense, The Last Exorcism II suffers from the opposite problem that the first movie did. Most of the first movie was stellar, and the last few minutes wavered a bit. That twist ending wasn’t enough to ruin the movie by any stretch, but the ending seemed tacked onto what was otherwise a solid creepfest. In the sequel, the first hour or so plods along without anything happening except for silly things like shadowy figures appearing in corners and windows, strange voices coming from people that they don’t belong to, and phone calls with creepy sounds. In other words, stuff that inspires laughter. Then the last act of the movie really tries to bring it and actually does for a few sparse moments, but it just doesn’t redeem the majority of the experience of watching this mostly insufferable sequel.
The strangest part of The Last Exorcism II is the confused nature of several of the human characters who interact with Nell. Mind you, none of them are even close to as fascinating as Cotton, but they’re worth brief mention. For one, various cult members seem to follow Nell and, at times, inhabit the bodies of her fair-weather friends at the halfway house. Nell’s father (Louis Herthum) returns in ghost form and either wants to save her, kill her, or both. Then there’s Nell’s sort-of boyfriend, Chris (Spencer Treat Clark), who gives out all sorts of unclear vibes but is mostly around to illustrate Nell’s sexual awakening. Finally, there’s a voodoo priestess named Cecile (Tarra Riggs), who is a benevolent force but has intentions of her own. These characters could have been used to build a stronger story, but they’re just thrown in there haphazardly and with no sense of direction.
As I’ve already stated, there is no subtlety to The Last Exorcism II. The film relies too much on jump scares that aren’t even scary, just headache inducing. This is a shame, because the first movie only delivered one slight jump scare at the beginning of the film. This time around, the instances where a character cautiously walks looks into the doorway of a darkened room to have something pop out at them are several, and it’s merely an annoyance. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly (I guess Daniel Stamm properly recognized that the first movie was best left as a one-off), nothing about this sequel is scary at all. Poor Nell deserved better than this.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.