Monday, March 4, 2013

The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)

Much like zombie movies in recent years, "found footage" movies have basically become a dime a dozen. For every good one, there are a zillion crappy direct-to-video "found footage" movies made by some joker that managed to get his hands on a camera and some editing software. But there are some good ones out there. Take The Last Exorcism for example. The movie absolutely scared the crap out of me when it was released in 2010, which is why I got really excited when I heard that there was going to be a sequel. Unfortunately, I got my hopes up for nothing, because The Last Exorcism Part II is a tremendous letdown on all fronts.

The movie picks up not long after its predecessor's fiery conclusion, and Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) has somehow managed to survive and escape. Shell-shocked by what happened, she eventually finds her way to civilization and is rushed to a hospital. Nell is given a quick evaluation and sent to a halfway house for troubled young women in the heart of New Orleans. Her new surroundings spur Nell to try forging a new life for herself. She makes friends with the other girls in the halfway house, gets a job as a hotel maid, and even begins an innocent courtship with an equally shy coworker (Spencer Treat Clark). But Nell's crippling fear of the demonic entity that possessed her still lingers. Try as she may to put her old life behind her, that malevolent being refuses to be ignored and will stop at nothing to retake Nell.

I'm honestly unsure of where to begin. The truth of the matter is that The Last Exorcism Part II is such an all-around disappointment that not one thing is to blame for its failure to succeed. Instead, everything is to blame. Only one or two elements really manage to rise above the dreck that makes up the rest of the movie. It's dull and lifeless, with only the briefest amount of tension and the cheapest of scares. You really get the feeling that the filmmakers simply could not be bothered to care. The irony there is that there isn't much in the movie I cared about either.

Some of the blame should be saddled on the director, Canadian filmmaker Ed Gass-Donnelly. I've never heard of Gass-Donnelly before, and looking at his IMDB profile, I haven't heard of his previous work either. And if The Last Exorcism Part II is any indication, I'd probably be just as unimpressed with his other efforts. Gass-Donnelly is obviously trying as best he can, but outside of some great cinematography, he could have done a lot better. He occasionally builds some suspense but very rarely can sustain it, and the few actual scares to be had are all of the "cheap jump scare" variety. And even those are so few and far between and so cheap that it's like they were a complete afterthought. Nothing ever really pays off from one scene to the next, and up until the climax, the movie is just kinda monotonous. Say what you will about the first movie, but it at least tried to avoid being boring. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about this piece of crap. I actually spent most of the movie thinking up sarcastic jokes about the movie as if I were a cast member of Mystery Science Theater 3000. How sad is that?

Further dragging the movie down is its terrible script written by Gass-Donnelly and Damien Chazelle. Seriously, this script is friggin' awful. The story briefly mentions certain plot threads left over from the first movie before abandoning them as if it casn't be bothered to develop them any further. Like what happened to the Satanic cult from the end of the first movie? And what about Nell apparently giving birth to a demon baby? Things get oh so briefly brought up and then never referenced again. It leads me to think that maybe this was just some random direct-to-video exorcism movie that somehow ended up having the "Last Exorcism sequel" deal shoehorned into it. It's just a piss-poor excuse for a sequel in any regard.

But that's not the only thing wrong with the script. Every character with the exception of Nell is forgettable and uninteresting, and even if the whole movie focuses on one character, you'd think that Gass-Donnelly and Chazelle could have at least attempted to make them worth something too. The movie's climactic exorcism feels really forced too, like they crammed it in there to justify the whole "exorcism" part of the title without really building to it. The movie's just cruising along at its own pace and then some voodoo lady suddenly pops up and hijacks the third act of the movie. I wouldn't have been surprised if much of the buildup (assuming it was there at all) was left on the cutting room floor to keep the movie under two hours. If it had been crafted a little differently, it might have turned out a little better. Instead, things just happen and we're supposed to roll with it.

And I mentioned previously that all the characters outside of Nell felt vestigial, but it turns out I can say the exact same thing about the cast. None of the supporting cast makes any sort of meaningful contribution to the movie, but then the movie isn't really about them either. The whole thing revolves around leading lady Ashley Bell, who ― much like she did in the first movie ― completely knocks it out of the park. Bell is a million times better than this movie deserves, as she approaches Nell in a way that makes the character sympathetic and likable. You want to root for her, to give her a big hug and tell her everything is going to be just fine. In a better movie, Bell would quite possibly be an award contender of some sort. She's that good, and I hope that this will help lead to her becoming a breakout star in the horror genre (or down a path greater than that). Even as this entire movie crumbles around her, Bell's performance is a shining light in a realm of darkness.

The decision to abandon the first movie's "found footage" approach and make this sequel a traditional movie was a brave one. Unfortunately, it turned out less like [•REC] 3 and more like Blair Witch 2. I'll give The Last Exorcism Part II credit for at least attempting something, but it falls flat regardless. One talented actress, some well-done cinematography, and a couple of creepy moments simply aren't enough to elevate the movie to the same plateau as its progenitor. And how telling is it that the best parts of the movie were the stock footage from the first movie and the theater I saw the movie at showing the trailers for World War Z and the remakes of Carrie and The Evil Dead? In any event, I would totally see a third Last Exorcism movie if I thought it would improve upon this one. But as it stands, you're better off sticking with just the first movie. Crazy ending or not, the original Last Exorcism is light years ahead of this one.

Final Rating: **

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