Found-footage possession horror The Last Exorcism was one of the surprise genre hits of 2010. With The Last Exorcism Part II in cinemas on Friday, we talked to producer Eli Roth about picking up the story, moving away from found footage and embracing the demon inside.
The first film is ambiguous right up to the end. Did you ever consider having the first film be a propaganda film by the church?
There was discussion of that, there absolutely was discussion of that, even to the point that there was this big point where we were like, “We should do this big logo ‘Brought to you by the church’”, so you’re not incorrect in thinking that. But we did make the conscious choice that we really liked the idea that, and this was sort of in the writing and discussion phase, we were like “No, this is real. This is really happening, it’s just a question of faith vs science.” That’s the argument that the first movie is about.
Nell is possessed. The only one speaking the truth is her father. And he was 100% right that he should have killed her, Cotton is a complete fraud. Everything happened, from the minute you meet Nell she’s putting on a show. The whole innocent act, everything. Her brother Caleb, he was at the party, he met Pastor Manly, he got involved with these people, he sacrificed, he sold out his sister because he turned against the church after his mother was taken. Both of them turned against the church after their mother was taken from them, they lost their way and the father couldn’t see it because he was too in his own world and he thought he sheltered her but he completely…the father was right. The demon got in her. So picking up from that point, the idea that Nell was possessed and that that whole ceremony at the end is actually a ceremony for Cotton, that’s not a ceremony for Nell.
Everything he did was mocking the church, was mocking religion at the beginning. And in fact when they’re, he does that whole banana bread ceremony, when they’re chanting when he’s going towards them at the end, they’re actually saying banana bread backwards, that’s what they’re chanting. It’s banana bread backwards, it’s all a joke, and the way he puts on the show, the exorcist, they’re putting on a kind of a fake show with the cloaks, it’s all to get Cotton to keep going and to draw them in, and once the demon is revealed, then he believes in it, then he finds faith. But that’s not true faith, that’s just a reaction to what you’re seeing. True faith would be believing in God before he sees the demon, and he goes into the fire to fight it and he gets destroyed.
So where does this sequel find Nell?
We were having trouble, where do we go with the story? And we loved the idea of following Nell, and what would happen if she lives in a world where the first film exists but it exists as a viral video. And she has absolutely no memory of what happened to her. She’s completely clueless to the fact that it’s even online, she doesn’t really know what the internet is. And she’s now, because she has no family, she’s told someone has perpetrated a fraud on her, and her whole family was killed, and that’s it. And so she’s in this home for troubled girls, and slowly she’s trying to re-integrate and say none of this really happened and then the girls find the video online and things start to happen, and it’s about her slowly coming to terms with what’s happening to her.
Was it a conscious choice to move away from found footage?
Yeah, I mean the first one, as much as it is found footage, it has been edited and scored and put together, so somebody put it together, and what was their agenda? And that was the thought about who put this film together and why does it exist? So the only way we could really justify doing that again was “What if another documentary crew went back to Iverwood to find out what happened?” and none of us wanted to see a film about that. We love Ashley Bell, we love that character, and I was fascinated by the idea of what if you were possessed, where there was something inside you, and you embraced it? What if that was the only thing you realised you could trust? That all your faith and everything else had turned its back on you and suddenly if you embrace this thing then what did that lead to? And Ashley was the actress that could really pull that off. So that was where we went with the story.
How much of this came from Ed [Gass-Donnelly, director and co-writer]?
A lot of it came from Ed. We brought Ed and we told him where we wanted to go with the story with Damien Chazelle our writer and Ed loved it. He loved the idea of Ashley being this innocent girl that’s had this thing happen to her and then slowly being haunted and everything she tries during life keeps unravelling in these very creepy ways. And Daniel Stam [director of the first film] loves Lars von Trier, like The Idiots is like it for him, and Ed loves Roman Polanski, and he was like “This should be like Rosemary’s Baby or The Shining”, like classical photography, slow moving, slow build, tense, atmospheric but very cinematic. He comes from a theatre background, he’s very performance based. And I loved his film Small Town Murder Songs, I loved the way it was shot, I thought it was really really well done, for a very low budget, and he knows how to make the scene tense and interesting and scary. And I really wanted to feel like his film, I wanted him to come in and feel welcome to put his creative stamp on the movie and his ideas and he threw in all sorts of things. And levitating was one of them. I was like, “Ah, can’t levitate, The Exorcist…” and he said “No no no, I know how it’s going to work in the story, I know how to integrate it, I know how to do it, I know how this moment’s really going to feel it,” and he was right. It was terrific.
The Last Exorcism Part II is set in New Orleans. Did you shoot there and are you commenting on anything there?
Well, obviously that question’s more for Ed and you’d have to ask him that, but we loved New Orleans as a backdrop. We love the ghost of what that city has, what it is, what it was. And setting it in the Mardi Gras, which has this strange pallor of sadness over it since Katrina. It’s still there and it still goes on, but somehow this idea of going to New Orleans for decadence isn’t the same as it was, you can’t go there and not think about that or feel it. Or feel that these poor people are still devastated by it. So it’s an interesting place and we loved shooting there and the people are wonderful and the crews are great, so it was a pleasure to go back. But you know it’s really, the first one was really that religion vs science vs faith, and this is still very much a film about faith, and what do you embrace, and what do you do when that faith betrays you.
The Last Exorcism Part II is released in UK cinemas on 7 June 2013. You can buy The Last Exorcism on Blu-ray for £6.88 at Amazon.co.uk.