Though it was dismissed by a lot of critics and remains underrated to this day, The Last Exorcism is one of the best horror films of the past four years. Featuring an excellent lead performance from Patrick Fabian and an intelligent, thought-provoking plot, The Last Exorcism was both a very creepy horror movie and a surprisingly effective character study. It even managed to be effective despite being an example of a “found footage” horror movie.
The Last Exorcism‘s sequel — the unimaginatively titled The Last Exorcism Part II – was released this weekend. Like a lot of people, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the sequel. The first film’s success was such a surprise that I doubted that the sequel could come close to matching it.
To a certain extent, I was right. The sequel is nowhere near as good as the first film. However, that said, The Last Exorcism Part II is still an above average horror film.
Wisely abandoning the whole found footage format, The Last Exorcism Part II begins with Nell (played, again, by Ashley Bell) as the only survivor from the previous film. After escaping the cult that previously attempted to sacrifice her, Nell finds herself put into group home in New Orleans. The group home is run by Frank Merle (Muse Watson), a friendly (if vaguely threatening) man who encourages Nell to try to move on from her traumatic past. With Frank’s help, Nell starts to recover. She gets a job working as a motel maid, makes friends with some of the other girls at the home, and she even starts to flirt with shy Chris (Spencer Treat Clark).
Everything seems to going so well for Nell.
Or is it?
Despite her claim that she no longer believes that she was ever possessed, Nell still finds herself being watched by menacing, masked figures who pop up on random street corners. She still receives mysterious phone calls. She’s still haunted by visions of her dead father walking through the dark hallways of the group home. Nell is still having nightmares where she’s seduced by an unseen creature and her roommate and new best friend Gwen (Julia Garner) still seems to be oddly amused by any type of human suffering.
And that’s not even taking into consideration the voodoo priestess who follows Nell up and down the streets of New Orleans…
As opposed to the first film, The Last Exorcism Part II is a pretty conventional horror film. Whereas the first film kept you constantly wondering whether Nell was actually possessed and made some surprisingly intelligent observations regarding the battle between faith and reason, The Last Exorcism Part II never gives you any reason to doubt that both the demon and the possession are real. Whereas The Last Exorcism was a horror film that could be appreciated even by people who hated horror films, The Last Exorcism Part II is pretty much a film for horror fans only.
Fortunately, I happen to be a horror fan and I was pleasantly surprised by The Last Exorcism Part II. While director Ed Gass-Donnelly shows little interest in rewriting the rules of the horror, he also shows that he can effectively work within the conventions of the genre. He even uses the PG-13 rating to the film’s advantage, making up for the lack of gore by emphasizing the otherworldly atmosphere of New Orleans.
It also helps that Ashley Bell returns in the role of Nell. As is typical of other possession movies (like the Exorcist, to cite an obvious example), the demon inside Nell can just as easily be taken as a metaphor for Nell’s emerging sexuality. Ashley Bell gives a performance that walks a perfect line between innocence and carnality. Much as Patrick Fabian’s performance elevated the first film, Bell’s performance elevates the second.
That said, The Last Exorcism Part II is ultimately the type of film where people tend to spend a lot of time wandering around dark hallways in the middle of the night without ever bothering to turn on a light. It’s up to each individual member of the audience to decide whether they’re going to demand to know why nobody turns on the lights or whether they’re simply going to enjoy waiting for the inevitable ”jump” scene that we all know is coming. If the audience is willing to set aside logic and enjoy a movie for what it is, then they are the ideal audience for a film like this one.
Perhaps not surprisingly, The Last Exorcism Part II has not received a lot of critical praise. The film was not screened for critic prior to release and now that it has been released, it has a 15% overall rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. However, you could have guessed that without me even telling you. Everyone knew that the professional critics were going to hate The Last Exorcism Part II. This is the type of film that most critics feel almost duty-bound to condemn. This is also the type of film that reminds us of just how little the critical consensus really matters. When judged on its own (admittedly limited) terms,The Last Exorcism Part II is an effective and creepy film. It’s the epitome of a fun and occasionally stupid horror film, the type of movie you want to see with a group of friends who enjoy jumping at things that go bump in the night.