I re-watched 2010's The Last Exorcism just the other day as I planned on seeing the sequel this week. I remembered liking it much more than I expected, but not for the reasons one expects when going to see a horror flick. No, I was never truly scared by what I saw on screen with the original film but more I was intrigued by the originality of it. Just when I thought I'd seen every kind of incarnation in which an exorcism could be presented on screen this found footage, documentary-like movie set a new standard for the exorcism film. The heart of that film, despite Ashley Bell's wonderfully innocent performance as sheltered yet possessed farm girl Nell Sweetzer, was Patrick Fabian as Reverend Cotton Marcus. Fabian created a charismatic character that was difficult to like, but at the same time able to create a sympathetic reasoning for his actions. He was a con man toying with peoples beliefs, but he was funny and to be fair he always had the best of intentions. The first film that needed no sequel, that called for no continuation of the story, or left anyone with a desire to see what happened to Nell (I think we all just assumed she died giving birth to a demon child!) was a brief hour and twenty-seven minutes long. The Last Exorcism Part II (which may be the most misleading title in the history of cinema) clocks in at only a minute longer, but feels like it goes on for days. It has an episodic feel to it that never picks up and never feels like a coherent work but instead a compilation of scenes that show our protagonist running from something, who we're never given a real reason as to why, and are expected to be frightened every time a loud sound interrupts the scene over and over again.

Ashley Bell in The Last Exorcism Part II.
Gone is the documentary style of the first film and present is the traditionally sleek and stylized fashion of scary movies as of late. Daniel Stamm is no longer at the helm, but instead this time directing duties have been passed on to Ed Gass-Donnelly who seems to have taken this project on as an exercise in style more than anything else. There is simply not much in the way of continuing Nell's story. Whether the studio really was that desperate to cash in on the surprise success of the first one or not, one thing is apparent and that is the writers were hard pressed to come up with anything for Nell to do except wonder around spooky places and jump at any sudden sound she hears that have been amplified by the sound mixers. Where they have decided to go with the story is to follow-up with a quick recap of the first film that knocks out about five minutes and then make us assume that someone was able to get her out of the woods and away from the cult safely and to the closest hospital. From there she is shipped off to New Orleans to stay at some type of girls home for the mentally unstable. Here, the man in charge known only as Frank (Muse Watson) puts the idea in Nell's mind that maybe the demon she's been running from isn't real, maybe none of it is. Nell at first goes with this notion and even makes a few friends along the way including Gwen (Julia Garner) and even a boyfriend (Spencer Treat Clark) but all of these things ring too good to be true as soon enough Nell begins to have bad dreams and sees visions of her dead father (Louis Hertham). He warns her not to be seduced by the spirit (whatever that might mean) but no matter what she does Abalam is not giving up without a fight. Nell goes through a few more stages that see her trying to break herself from the bind this demon has apparently created with her, if she's successful or not is what the writers hope to have you hooked on.

It wouldn't be half bad if it felt necessary at all, but you walk into this film knowing it is nothing more than a cash grab and the effort put on screen is clearly nothing more than the basics of what they could get away with. I try to be optimistic no matter what kind of film I'm walking in to and with having refreshed my memory of how much I enjoyed The Last Exorcism I'd built up a nice bit of anticipation to see what they might do since they'd decided to continue the story. Maybe they had come up with a fresh approach, a strong enough idea to justify moving forward with a second film. As the lights dimmed and the recap completed the film faded into a different tome completely that contrasted the footage we'd just seen from the first film. It was suburbia, not the vudu-ridden, wide open country of rural Louisiana as we'd come to expect. The slight, exercise in jump scares the introduction exhibits the inherent creepiness of the subject matter and the power within the performance of Ashley Bell as she is able to turn a look into a chilling effect no matter the context of it. It is nice even, that they were able to convince Bell to come back and do the sequel but they never take advantage of her ability to twist and turn and contort her body into gasp-worthy positions as they did in the first film and they have her playing up the innocence angle to the point it doesn't seem genuine anymore, but more of a way to avoid facing the reality of her current situation. Even as she supposedly makes friends she never fits in, she never changes and this clearly exemplifies the halted character development the script suffers from. It does nothing to further her story, it has no interest in seeing Nell grow as a person, all it wants to do is see her react to those loud noises and hope she is attacked by her demon lover sooner than later.

Nell's new friends at her boarding house are scared by what they uncover from her past.
This is a shame really, as Nell truly is a damaged figure. She is a lost soul if you will; raised to be a devout believer in God and the Bible with every reason to hate religion for the pain and loss she has experienced in her life. To explore those feelings of vulnerability and how she might come to cope with a modern world would have been more interesting than this scrapped together piece of every horror movie cliche we've seen in the past. As I've said before, I hate to come down so hard on a film because I try to see the good in all productions as I can only imagine the countless number of people who worked on this to make it look and feel like the experience of a scary movie should, but The Last Exorcism Part II fails miserably in every department except for the one that requires it look sleek and modern. Caleb Landry Jones decided to pass on this sequel and with good reason, but I wish they would have worked his character in some how. His Caleb Sweetzer was the last person to be seen at the end of the first film and it only makes sense he is out there somewhere heading up the initiative to bring his sister back into the clutches of his cult. That right there is a more intriguing premise that what the creators of this film have given us in what is no doubt a long line of sequels. I hope they don't make more, I hope this one doesn't make enough money because it shouldn't have been made in the first place. When will it become the standard to not have a sequel to every moderately successful film that comes out and entices the audience on its own original terms. The idea, much less the execution of making a part two completely violates the credibility and affection felt for that original film. No example could serve this better than The Last Exorcism, a truly wonderful gem of a horror flicks whose legacy will forever be tarnished by this unnecessary sequel.

No comments:

Post a Comment