The notion of a sequel to The Last Exorcism wasn’t particuarly appealing given its conclusive ending, but there’s a surprising amount of invention and intelligence in this follow-up that ditches the found-footage techinque for a straight-forward possession horror.
Following her brush with Satan, sweet, innocent Nell (Ashley Bell) takes up residence in a New Orleans women’s shelter with no memory of what happened to her. As Nell tries to create a normal life for herself, with friends, a job, and maybe even a boyfriend, she realises that a piece of the Dark Lord is still inside her and is determined to claim her whole.
Things get off to a very strong start, with Bell’s excellent performance keeping us invested during some of the clunkier moments. Her sensitive portrayal of a damaged woman discovering the world for the first time makes the turns into darkness all the more effective.
While there is some strong back up from Julia Garner (We Are What We Are, Electrick Children), Spencer Treat Clark (Much Ado About Nothing) and genre veteran Muse Watson (I Know What You Did Last Summer), it’s Ashley Bell’s show and she’s fantastic.
Losing the found footage proves to be exactly the right choice. It allows for a clearer focus on Nell’s emotional journey, while the placement of the first film as a viral video is a nice touch that further emphasises her disconnect from the modern world.
That being said, the film suffers a serious dip in the middle as it struggles to fill time before the big finish. Scary buskers, scary priests, and scary birds prompt giggles rather than gasps, and a couple of effective notes are hit too many times. Whether or not you can forgive these missteps will probably dictate how invested you are in the film’s big finish.
It is all building towards something though, and that big finish is worth the wait. Nowhere near as bad as you may have heard, The Last Exorcism: Part II isn’t perfect and doesn’t match its predecessor, but Bell is great and there are some genuine surprises.
Fans of the original may quite fairly complain that it lacks some of its predecessor’s more subtle notes, but the new direction is more interesting than a retread would have been. It won’t win the series any new fans but it’s definitely worth a look.