Who Do That Voodoo? by Sarah Brinks
The Last Exorcism Part II might have one of the worst titles ever, but at least it isn’t the worst horror movie or even worst exorcism movie ever. I was a fan of the first film The Last Exorcism, with the exception of the terrible last ten minutes. When I saw that a sequel was coming out I was both curious and concerned, after seeing the film I think both were fair feelings.
One of the things that made The Last Exorcism so good was Ashley Bell’s performance as sweet, southern Nell. She was very believable as a teenager who was clearly devastated by the loss of her mother to cancer and was afraid that she was becoming possessed by a demon and wanted to be saved. The Last Exorcism Part II picks up right where the The Last Exorcism left off. (**Spoilers for The Last Exorcism**) Nell is discovered in a home after the cult takes her baby and kills the film crew from The Last Exorcism. Nell is examined and taken to a mental health facility. She is eventually rehabilitated and brought to a home for troubled girls in New Orleans. Nell begins to try and start her life over and convinces herself that the events of the first film were not real. She gets a job as a maid in a local hotel, starts to make friends, and even catches the eye of a boy at work. Things seem to be finally be going well for Nell (nothing is worse for a character in a horror movie then when life starts to go well) but eventually it becomes obvious that the demon from the first movie is coming back to get her.
The Last Exorcism Part II is fine as a horror movie. To its credit I think it is genuinely scary in parts and puts forth some interesting ideas. Unfortunately like most sequels The Last Exorcism Part II as both a whole and in its parts is a lesser film then the original. The Last Exorcism was shot in the hand-held, documentary style popular with many horror films recently. That style works very well for the film and adds realism and even unexpected humor. The Last Exorcism Part II is told as a standard narrative. The documentary gimmick would have been an absurd stretch for the sequel and I am glad they did not go that route, but without it the film is less interesting from the start. The other element that made The Last Exorcism really work were the performances. Patrick Fabion as the charismatic preacher Cotton Marcus makes the film worth watching. Bell’s performance as the naive and sheltered Nell Sweetzer makes her transition to a possessed demonic child feel authentic and terrifying. The rest of the cast of The Last Exorcism played it very real and helped sell the documentary aspect of the film. In The Last Exorcism Part II Nell is broken and sad and lacking the vitality that made her such an endearing character and also a tragic victim in The Last Exorcism. To Bell’s credit she makes Nell sympathetic and sweet, so the audience is still routing for her through Part II. Bell really does the best she possibly could, physically she makes some really interesting choices and knows how to simply move her hand in a creepy way. I think Bell is an actress to keep an eye on in the future.
The most unfortunate thing about The Last Exorcism Part II is that it doesn’t trust itself to be its own movie. We all know that horror movies are our generations morality tales, and The Last Exorcism Part II fits right into that trope. There are some really interesting ideas addressed by the film about a young woman’s exploration of sexuality but just as the film starts to go there it has to interrupt itself with a jump scare. The film also brushes up against the exploration of faith as both a moral barometer and tool of manipulation. When The Last Exorcism Part II is examining one of these ideas it is at its best. Nell at the start of film puts her mothers cross necklace in her pocket instead of around her neck because she still has the fresh wounds both physically and emotionally from the events of the first film. Later in the film after the demon has begun to tempt her again she puts the cross back on and goes to church to ask God for guidance. Instead of taking a beat to exam the weight and meaning of that choice the film goes right into cheap horror mode and breezes right by. The clash of old and new world religions, specifically voodoo and Christianity, is introduced and never explored. The setting of New Orleans is the perfect backdrop for exploration of the temptation of sex plus the different religions practiced there. Both are momentarily skimmed but never examined in earnest. If the film had taken a breath during the final exorcism scene there was a really great opportunity to examine the similarities of voodoo exorcism and Christian/Catholic exorcism so focused on in The Last Exorcism. In the hands of smarter writers I think The Last Exorcism Part II could have been a much better and more interesting film.
I do want to give credit where it is due. The director Ed Gass-Donnelly made some interesting choices and made the film better then a lesser director would have. There is a scene when a voodoo practicing nurse does a sort of seance with Nell. The way it is shot, with the exception of the bad CGI, is very interesting and helps build the suspense in a fun way. Gass-Donnelly gets the number one rule of horror that unfortunately so many other horror directors don’t: What you don’t see is often scarier then what you do. Gass-Donnelly uses darkness and shadows and even sometimes closed doors to build the suspense. Gass-Donnelly hasn’t directed much according to IMDB, but I am looking forward to what he does in the future, hopefully with a better script.
The Last Exorcism Part II is not as good as its predecessor but it is also not as bad as I had feared. If you are looking for a scare at the cinema in the boring doldrums of March you could do a lot worse then The Last Exorcism Part II.