Skipping all the jokes about its paradoxical title, The Last Exorcism Part II picks up right on the heels of Part I, transporting us out of the confines of first-person handicam perspective, into a traditional third-person point of view. The morning after the baffling events at the Sweetzer farmhouse, a random couple wakes to find a feral Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) inhabiting their kitchen.
Nell is taken to a shelter for troubled girls, and diagnosed as the delusional victim of cult abuse. Over the subsequent months, she seems to make good progress acclimating to an outside world she’s never known – until strange dreams turn into waking hallucinations, making Nell question whether her “delusions” were anything but. If the unthinkable is indeed real – and the demon Abalam still walks the Earth – Nell could be the key to mankind’s salvation… or its damnation.
Last Exorcism Part II is a movie that was not at all needed and few wanted, so it should not come as a surprise that the result is a ridiculous sequel whose hackneyed plot and mundane direction undermine anything even remotely innovative or exciting about the original. And for those still arguing about whether or not the ending of the Last Exorcism was amazing or a total wreck: The sequel manages to end things on an even worse note.
Writing and directing duties for this followup were delegated (and I do mean “delegated”) to Ed Gass-Donnelly, a relatively unknown director whose film Small Town Murder Songs made some waves on the 2010 festival circuit. Aiding in the writing is newcomer Damien Chazelle; while the pair have some talent, their inexperience – combined with the shaky foundation this franchise already rested on – are pretty much the reason why Part II is an overall uninspired, unimpressive film.
Things start off well enough, with the mystery surrounding Nell and her state of mind propelling things along and offering Gass-Donnelly the chance to create some solid sequences and scares. With nothing (and no one) cast in a light of certainty, there is a relative sense of menace hanging over each scene early on in the film.
However, by the time the narrative shifts into Act II, the script and the direction change focus, trying to play up some surreal vision of Nell’s paranormal frights – falling back into the now-defunct question of ‘is she crazy or not?’ From there the film melts down into a series of episodic and cliched scare sequences, with little narrative or logic holding them together. An attempt at a third act twist is bumbled so badly that ultimately the entire franchise mythos is left crushed under the weight of its own unearned resolution, plot holes and illogic.
This is not to mention the many missed opportunities, dangling red herrings, and overall validation of what many people understood from the very beginning: there was never much of this story left to work with, and the filmmakers didn’t find any real way to scale that massive obstacle.
Ashley Bell gets to take the reigns this time as Nell – but her biggest selling point from the first film (her freakish contortions) are set aside in the sequel so that she can focus on some actual dramatic acting. To her credit, she proves herself to be more than just a gimmick – and thanks to a humorous meta-moment, Nell even gets some props for those star-making freak theatrics.
Other fresh young faces help support the weight; Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene) steals many of the scenes she’s in as Nell’s friend, Gwen; Spencer Treat Clark (the little kid from Unbreakable) is less convincing as Chris, a love interest. Veteran character actors Muse Watson (Prison Break, NCIS), Tarra Riggs (Treme) and David Jensen (Battleship, Looper) bring actual character to their bit roles as Nell’s caretaker and two benevolent exorcists, respectively; however, in masochistic fashion the script makes sure to squander these interesting characters in the most trivial ways possible.
In the end, The Last Exorcism Part II is a lackluster attempt to cash-in on a film that left just as many people angry as it did satisfied. Peel back the layers of this onion and you’ll find you aren’t really even holding an onion in your hand – just a withered skin still shaped like one. I think I speak for many when I say: Let this truly be the last.
The Last Exorcism Part II is now playing in theaters. It is 88 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for horror violence, terror and brief language.