Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Cast: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs
Running time: 88 min
Release: June 7
The Last Exorcism 2 is pretty bad. Remember Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2? Remember The Grudge 2? Remember The Grudge 3, actually? It’s about as bad as those. The first film was a low-budget sleeper hit, and deservedly so. Horror films aren’t usually so formally interesting, and Ashley Bell reportedly did all her own writhing. The sequel cost five times as much and really didn’t need to happen.
It begins with a quick sum-up of number one, in which farmer’s daughter Nell Sweetzer (Bell) is possesed by ancient demon Abalam. Then Nell is found creeping around the place, psychotic with shock. She enters a halfway house for disturbed young women, run by a kindly man (Muse Watson) who convinces her that the events of the first film were not supernatural but psychological. Here Nell thrives; sassy friends are made, there’s a love interest, she finds a job. Then Abalam begins to make his presence felt. The easiest way to signify vague supernatural evil is to make the animals do weird stuff, so dogs bark and there’s a spooky trip to the zoo. We thought her father died in the last film, but sometimes Nell spots him across busy roads, through the passing hatchbacks. He’s still in the same old dungarees. One night Dad turns up in her room and really raises the stakes. “The fate of the world hangs in the balance,” he says, and things get silly.
About halfway through, the first film shows up as a viral video. It’s an interesting touch, and points to the biggest loss from first to second. The Last Exorcism got most of its fizz from being in the modish found-footage style; ostensibly we were watching a documentary about a jaded pentecostal minister’s final exorcism. Originality arose out of the extent to which director Daniel Stamm stuck to the fake documentary thing; every time a horror trope loomed on the horizon, we wondered how he was going to make it work. In this way, an unedited clip of the first can appear as a YouTube phenomenon in the second and not disrupt the verisimilitude. Ditching the found-footage framing mechanism means that the sequel is The Blair Witch 2 all over again.
If you’re into 15A horror films The Last Exorcism 2 might tide you over til The Grudge 4 next year. For everyone else, one reason to watch might be Ashley Bell. She’s got Sissy Spacek’s gaspy naivety, and a grace that is somewhere between American Gothic and Italian Vogue. That at 27 she can still do a convincing awkward adolescent is to be respected; it’s a shame that as soon as she starts to bite off bits of scenery, there’s a mysterious sound and everyone levitates offscreen. What a waste.