Bell Shines (Again) Even If Second Last Exorcism Fails to Scare
Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) has survived. The happenings that went down in Ivanwood are currently unexplained, everyone involved dead or disappeared while the only evidence chronicling what took place is the remaining footage of a documentary film crew there to photograph what they thought was going to be routine (and fake) exorcism.
Ashley Bell in The Last Exorcism Part II © CBS Films
Placed in a Louisiana halfway house for young women, Nell is attempting to restart her life, making friends with roommate Gwen (Julia Garner) and getting a job as a housekeeper at a local hotel. She also begins a quiet, hesitant relationship with coworker Chris (Spencer Treat Clark), the two delicately feeling one another out as they inch towards romance.
For those who donít remember, Nell was the chosen vessel for the demon Abalam, and at the end of 2010ís The Last Exorcism she was in the middle of giving birth to something frighteningly wicked just as the priest who had come to help her Ė originally under false pretenses Ė was engaged in battle with that which was possessing her. The documentary crew died, of course, as did her father, Louis (Louis Herthum), the ultimate destination of the cult surrounding her and the demon not altogether known.
The idiotically entitled The Last Exorcism Part II eschews the found footage esthetic of the original, director and co-writer Ed Gass-Donnelly (Small Town Murder Songs) choosing instead to move forward with a traditional narrative his camera attempting to more or less see things entirely through Nellís eyes. Working with fellow writer Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) the pair follow a relatively standard path, and to say events follow pretty much exactly as anticipated is something of a forgone conclusion.
And thatís a pity, because much like the first time around once again Bell delivers a performance as Nell thatís borderline staggering. She is a sensational talent, not just for her ability to contort her body into an increasingly unbelievable series of knots but also because she is able to mine so much emotional territory with believable simplicity. A delicate smile can instantly transform into a horrified frown, a determined glare can morph into uncertainly with remarkable ease. Every facet of her performance is a wonder, the actress delivering so much of herself that it is impossible to know where she begins and the character sheís portraying comes to an end.
Additionally, much like with the criminally little-seen Small Town Murder Songs Gass-Donnelly has a rather stunning eye, the visual milieu he and favorite cinematographer Brendan Steacy craft a delectably unsettling one that utilizes their New Orleans locations beautifully. The movie floats through its relatively speedy 88 minutes nicely, and as silly as the narrative might have gotten there was always something of interest for my eye to latch on to a gigantic unexpected plus I wholly appreciated.
Be all that as it may, the simple truth is that as magnificent as Bell is Ė and, let me reiterate, sheís extraordinary Ė and as strong as the visual esthetic might be the script itself is a tired, turgid mess of genre clichťs that get more and more annoying as things progress. By the time the titular exorcism finally rolls around, no spoiler there, itís part of the title after all, I was hard-pressed to care whether or not Nell would survive. Much of the last act falls into self-parody, the actions of those attempting to obliterate the demon so by-the-numbers and leading to actions so anticipated I kind of wanted to grab a handful of popcorn and throw it at the screen in anger.
I will give Gass-Donnelly and Chazelle some credit. By and large they donít drop the ball near as spectacularly at the end as the first film did, never descending into the same state of unintentional silliness that sent me out of the theatre laughing uncontrollably. The pair of the strength of their convictions and take things to a natural conclusion that fits Nell and her story nicely, the look on her face as the screen goes to black admittedly chilling.
So what? As strong as elements might be the unavoidable elephant here is that the filmmakers waste a star-making performance from their lead and some strong visuals in order to tell a rudimentarily perfunctory story Iíve seen way too many times before. Their sequel simplicity isnít scary, the forgone nature of whatís going on making Nellís journey an instantly forgettable one. The Last Exorcism Part II wants to be the fiery conclusion to an epic tale but what it really ends up being is just another subpar horror effort wasting the time and talents of almost everyone involved. Pity.
Film Rating: ÍÍ (out of 4)