The Last Exorcism Part II
Not to quote myself, but when I wrote about The Last Exorcism a few years back I led with “Exorcism movies shouldn’t be rated PG-13, because demons shouldn’t be rated PG-13.” That goes double for exorcism movies about a demon that’s in love with its host body. The Last Exorcism made a lot of money, and so we now behold The Last Exorcism Part II, which should by rights be nasty and filthy, since it involves a demon trying to seduce a teenage girl into welcoming it inside her forever. Back in the ’70s, the era of drive-ins and wonderfully loose morals, this sort of thing would’ve barnstormed theaters with a hard R rating and scandalized everyone except the steadfast trash-movie fans who cheerfully chugged it down. Instead we get this pallid, waifish film with a safe PG-13, which allows for no nastiness, no filthiness, and one lonely F-bomb. I remember when demon flicks used to be dangerous and shocking. Get off my lawn.
This sequel is a conscious break from the original — it’s not a found-footage movie, but a “real” movie, in which the first film’s possessed victim, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), has escaped from the demonic cult idiotically revealed in the original’s climax. Nell goes to stay at a New Orleans halfway house with other wayward girls, and her demon, “Abalam,” is still very much with her. She meets a shy boy (Spencer Treat Clark) at her new job cleaning motel rooms — by the way, we see more footage of Nell vacuuming motel rugs than really deserves to be in a horror movie, unless the filmmakers are exclusively playing to the zuigerphobes in the audience.
You see enough horror movies and you’ve seen the four or five basic ways an unimaginative director tries to scare you, or at least startle you. In some respects film language is still in its infancy, but there are nevertheless many effective ways to disturb, disorient or otherwise freak out an audience, and The Last Exorcism Part II doesn’t come within a country mile of any of them. We get the standard jump scares, the standard looming shadow in the background, the standard weird voices. Ashley Bell is a good actress — she was vivid in the first film — but here she mostly shuffles around as Nell tries to be a Good Girl and can never get anyone to believe that Abalam is messing with her again, at least until the time-honored Magical Negro (Tarra Riggs), complete with a voodoo-woman head wrap, says she can help Nell, recruiting two of the most inept exorcists I’ve seen since The Devil Inside. She also briefly calls on Baron Samedi, evoking unhelpful memories of the far more entertaining 1974 flick Sugar Hill — this movie sure could’ve used a spectral dude in a top hat, grinning and chomping a cigar and bellowing “What is in it for me?” — but, no, the Baron presumably finds Nell boring and stays out of it. Pity.
There’s an interesting idea here — Abalam loves Nell and wants to be with her — but soon enough the idea coughs up blood, points its toes skyward, and is forgotten about. For this conceit to work, we would have to see that Nell is actually, y’know, being seduced, but we just see the standard ooga-booga stuff. A demon that presents as an angel, as a being you don’t want to get rid of, is a lot scarier than a demon that rattles windows, says creepy things, and generally comes off like a pervy stalker. For its other trick, Abalam apparently makes Nell have quite the hot dreams, prompting her to moan and stroke her face. Well, what turns Nell on? What could lure this chaste girl over to the dark side? Um, something, I guess — it’s a PG-13 movie, so we never find out. There’s no tension if Nell doesn’t want what the demon is offering. Haven’t these filmmakers ever heard of the first temptation? A demon will come to you as everything you ever wanted; scaring you away from it is just bad business for a demon.
I have to assume the filmmakers are big fans of the climactic scenes in the first two Paranormal Activity movies wherein nice-looking Katie Featherston went on destructive rampages. Here — spoiler alert — nice-looking Ashley Bell goes on such a rampage, and I would advise you, in a few months, to hit up a Redbox, take home this movie for a dollar, and skip forward to the last few minutes, particularly a shot in which Nell drives merrily around town while stuff on the street — including a fire truck — bursts into flames all around her. Good times. If you don’t want to spend the buck, it’ll probably turn up on YouTube titled “The Best Part of The Last Exorcism Part II.” It’s the best part in more ways than one, since the end credits appear within seconds and we get to go the hell home.