Review: 'The Last Exorcism Part II' Proves Less is More, Until the End
by Jeremy Kirk
March 1, 2013
There appears to be a laziness to a movie with a title like The Last Exorcism Part II. Neither The Next-To-Last Exorcism nor The Really Last Exorcism would have worked, but titles that quirky might have fit better with the film we get. Loopy and weird the right doses, The Last Exorcism Part II takes a different path than its found-footage predecessor , setting aside shaky camera and people running through woods in favor of character development and a slow-build arc. Cheap scares aside, the film wins major points in the choices it makes, and an ending that delivers a stamp Paranormal Activity couldn't get to in four films.
Fans of the first The Last Exorcism - the last exorcism before this last exorcism, apparently - will remember Nell, played by Ashley Bell, a sweet, innocent farm girl whose father called in a priest after suspecting his daughter is possessed by an evil demon. Things didn't go well for anyone involved, and Nell was the only survivor. Found roaming the streets, she now finds herself in a home for troubled girls. Pieces of the events from the first film are lost to the girl, totally unaware of what happened to her but very mindful of a sinister being that has targeted her and is now haunting her. The visions build. Things start flying off the walls. Needless to say, Nell's happiness in a fruitful life won't be easy if the demon has anything to say about it.
Damien Chazelle and Ed Glass-Donnelly take over screenwriting duties on The Last Exorcism Part II, Glass-Donnelly taking the directing reigns from Daniel Stamm. The sequel is nowhere near the scare-a-minute joltfest that The Last Exorcism tried to be, instead taking its time to set pieces in motion. Sporadic scares come here and there. When those things fly off the walls, they're usually accompanied by loud bangs and sharp chords on the soundtrack just to give the audience that maximum amount of voltage. It's as if Glass-Donnelly knows there isn't much to be frightened of for much of The Last Exorcism Part II, and any cheap scares it can muster is good enough for this crowd.
It's unnecessary with the story they're choosing to tell here. The move of focus away from The Last Exorcism's doubting minister, Cotton Marcus, to Nell may make some think the film should be ripe with demonic mischief busting through doors and cracking the walls. These moments come, but they're more dotted here instead of relying on thrills to move the story. Where The Last Exorcism Part II falls back on suspense and violence, it more than pushes its PG-13 envelope with the amount of sexual references and innuendo going on. It's as if Glass-Donnelly and crew wanted to make a horror movie using seduction as a weapon, and for the most part, their little experiment works. The slow-burn story even finds a way of distracting you from the digital format they've chosen to shoot here, something that makes the film fit perfectly with the CBS Films logo at the start.
Bell fits in with Network TV aesthetics, too, as virtuous and as sweet as she's playing Nell. You yearn for the moments when this girl smiles, something you're not guaranteed to have much of in a horror film when a sadistic demon is involved. But Bell plays all angles of the story well, bending over backwards - quite literally in one of The Last Exorcism Part II's many detours into the subgenre's tropes - for the part and holding our interest every jagged step of the way. Her story is restrained, and she plays restrained right along with it, unaware of the inevitable horrors that do come.
And the amount of restraint found in 80% of The Last Exorcism Part II seems all the more justified once the film reaches it's ending. Seemingly, the whole reason the first 60 minutes exists is so that the final 20 minutes can play out in all its ridiculous, gaudy, and, yes, amazing wonder. The left-field choices made until then keep the audience focused and ready for whatever might come around the corner, and kudos to everyone involved in this film for taking a balls-out approach in the end. It doesn't pander to an audience who's seen it all before, it doesn't cut off just before the third act so they can keep the franchise going, and it doesn't settle on a cheap deus ex machina to right every wrong just before the credits roll.
It's difficult to recommend a film for the insanity that plays out in its final moments, but The Last Exorcism Part II plays into this particular exception to the rule quite well. It isn't as if the film's first hour has nothing new to offer. Quite the contrary, and the missing found footage angle and all that comes with it is never missed. The scares don't deliver the punch of other efforts playing the same scare-tactics game, but Glass-Donnelly's bright, hazy world and Bell's dreamlike virtue she plays into Nell create a subtle air of comfort, one that leads to foreboding when you think about what's coming. And then it comes, and The Last Exorcism Part II delivers, heavy metal music and all. For sheer guts alone, The Last Exorcism franchise has a leg-up on a few of its supernatural competitors.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10