Culture

Hopefully the “Last” for good

last exorcism

The Last Exorcism Part II

dir. Ed Gass-Donnelly

Release Date: Mar 01, 13

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A title like The Last Exorcism Part II feels not only oxymoronic, but also a little bit indulgent. After all, was there really a sizable audience for a sequel to a found-footage horror vehicle that quickly fizzled out upon its release in late summer 2010? Apparently somebody believed so, for here we are. Wisely, Part II quickly runs through the first film’s plot, ignoring some of its audaciously bad late-game twists while recycling Rec 3: Genesis’ clever means of shifting from found footage to standard photography along the way. After her tragic ordeal at the hands of a demonic cult, Nell (Ashley Bell) is placed into a halfway house for formerly endangered young women. It proves an incredibly callous place (most of her housemates view her with something between suspicion and scorn, and her one supposed friend just smirks at her episodes), but Nell is nevertheless liberated by her new situation. That is, until she finds out that the demon which previously possessed her has followed her to New Orleans, and wants her back.

One of the masterstrokes of the first Last Exorcism was the use of found footage, which piggybacked conveniently on a trend but also allowed for a new approach to the body possession horror subgenre. When Bell contorted herself into hideous shapes, it was genuinely disarming, capturing the same sort of ethereal terror that Linda Blair’s spinning head did for a previous generation (if not anywhere near so iconically). One of Part II’s first major missteps, unfortunately, is the choice to have Bell carry the film as a doe-eyed innocent struggling with her faith while lured by the seductive promises of a demon. She’s not quite up to the task; whenever the film calls for terror or, once again, her possession, she carries it ably. But when she has to banter with her peers, or awkwardly court a hunky co-worker at work, her dialogue comes off so stilted that the film becomes unintentionally comic. This isn’t totally her fault, for the script co-written by director Ed Gass-Donnelly and Damien Chazelle is a pastiche of bad clichés, sporadically broken up by some bizarre approaches to religious folklore. But where some scream queens would at least embrace the trashy appeal of a movie that turns as bizarre as Part II eventually does, Bell plays it woefully straight.

Once the demon ends up at her house, the film takes a headlong dive into the traditional and overdone. Where the first film pushed its PG-13 to the limit at times, the sequel is content to hide its goriest (and most interesting) moments behind closed doors, while settling for a plethora of ineffective jump scares. (Pro tip for future horror filmmakers: If you choose to use a street performing robot for not one but two “gotcha!” moments in the same scene, expect that nobody will take your movie seriously.) What’s perhaps most disturbing about Part II, though, is its strangely puritan approach to sex and temptation. Since seduction is evidently a demon’s easiest path to a pure soul, Part II uncomfortably equates Nell’s sexual awakening with the embrace of hellfire. Once she has an orgasm in her sleep, it’s only a matter of time until not even a church can protect her, and only a voodoo séance (because we’re in New Orleans, after all) can protect her from pure evil. Even the sound of a couple having sex in an adjacent hotel room casts a literal black mark upon her, and here the scariest thing about the otherwise banal Part II becomes clear: nothing is more monstrous than a woman enjoying sex.