‘The Last Exorcism Part II:’ Demon in the Big City

Merriam Webster defines the word “last” as an adjective meaning:

  • Following all the rest <he was the last one out>
  • Being the only remaining <our last dollar>
  • Belonging to the final stage <his last hours on earth>

In other words, if something claims to be the last, like, oh, I don’t know, The Last Exorcism, it means that nothing should come after it. Especially not a diluted sequel.

The Last Exorcism films follow Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), who is possessed by a relentless and violent demon, Abalam. Part II continues where the first one left off: Nell has survived the cult-in-the-woods ordeal of the first movie and landed herself in a girl’s home in New Orleans, a conveniently spiritual place, as magic- and voodoo-friendly as a city can be. Obviously, Abalam can’t resist the lure of Bourbon Street and jazz and the lack of open container laws, so he/it follows Nell there to torment a whole new group of people. What follows is fairly formulaic and, of course, culminates with a…nother…last…exorcism.

The first Last Exorcism didn’t leave me needing or wanting a part deux. In fact, it left me not wanting to watch it again and hoping that others who thirsted for a really good horror flick would be so wise as to not get sucked in by the promising premise of a disillusioned pastor who finds himself in the crazy-Christian backwoods, up against an actual demon. The first forty minutes or so were really good, all found-footage-y and starring skillful, unknown actors. Then, it ended with an over-the-top and mostly out-of-the-blue culty cult cult and instead of making me scream out in fright, it made me scream, “Rosemary’s Baby rip off!”

You may be wondering why, after that stellar review I just gave the first installment, I would decide to go see the second one. There are two reasons for this:

1. The first one is intriguing, up to the last part, and I thought perhaps, with another go at it, they’d figure out the kinks (ahem, let go of the stupid cult thing). However, in Part II, the cult is just effectively replaced with an extremely vague “Order” of people who supposedly protect other people from demons and things.

2. Ashley Bell is actually phenomenal. Her performances alone in both the first and the second movies make them worth watching that one and only time. Nell is simultaneously so innocent and so creepy, super scared and super full of conviction…and a demon. And Ashley Bell is nuanced and subtle and so skilled at making Nell seem real, not just an archetype of a meek, sheltered victim. It is my professional (ha) opinion that she should be in a lot more things.

There are aspects of the movie that are enjoyable and even original. Bell’s performance no doubt carries the whole thing, but a quirky love interest in the guy she works with, Chris (Spencer Treat Clark), adds something to the movie that is genuine and understated and mildly uncomfortable in a very real way, which is refreshing considering Part II forewent the hand-held indie vibe of the first one in favor of a much more streamlined, blockbuster-ish look this time.

However, the movie is so cripplingly PG-13 it hurts. The first installment was also PG-13, but it was creatively graphic and grimy. Any and all potentially fun, gory death scenes in Part II are dealt with by literally closing a door on them. We hear sounds; we see blood splatter or a window break…from the other side of the door, or, in the big, climactic scene, from outside the house and across the street. It isn’t creative about what it doesn’t show. It seems like the filmmakers bitterly lock us out of those scenes because they were bitter about being restricted to the PG-13 code of boringness.

So, this is a cry for gore. This movie could have been, to put it in official gore-favoring horror fan lingo, AWESOME. But no. It was tame and lame and I want no part of it! What happened to horror movies? Why can’t they be rated R anymore? The gore doesn’t have to be gratuitous or over-the-top, but sometimes it really does contribute to the meaning of these films. It’s part of what makes horror horrifying. Sure, there are some movies that don’t need the gore, but in this particular case, seeing could have helped the believing immensely. Instead, in The Last Exorcism Part II, we understand that Nell is being haunted, but we ourselves are not. Most, if not all of the scares that land (there are one or two), do so one hundred percent because of Ashley Bell’s performance.

These days, it seems the box-office-number-hungry studios and the MPAA kill horror movies. But if you know your movie’s going to be poked and prodded by the rating devil, think creatively. Get the scare another way. It’s worth it. It is probably one of the hardest things to do in film, but when it works, it’s brilliant. One recent horror flick that went super retro and had very little gore but is still all the scares is Ti West’s, The Innkeepers. But for goodness’ sake, don’t just close a door on everything. It doesn’t work.

Really and truly, the scariest thing about the movie was the rapidity with which I demolished an entire large popcorn all by myself. I can’t blame a demon for that one. That was all me.

Grade: B-

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