Last Exorcism: Part 2
The success of new offerings in a genre is frequently defined by just how well-crafted the defining gold standard film happens to be. In organized crime drama it’s rough with the ‘Godfather trilogy setting the high water mark for all subsequent movies to follow. A similar occurrence can be observed with a popular segment of the horror drama, exorcism. The Exorcist’ released in 1976 still remains the touchstone for the plethora of flicks utilizing demonic possession as a central theme. Arguably the only case of casting out demons is found in the Bible Mark 16:9 when Jesus Christ became the first written account of an exorcist. It is a safe bet that more people will call to mind the William Friedkin film when asked about that rite. For the filmmaker daring to enter that category of film it takes a certain fortitude going into a project knowing the critical viewers are going to compare your work to a ground breaking example of cinema. Despite some of the technical missteps made in the film under scrutiny here, ‘The Last Exorcism Part II’ by Ed Gass-Donnelly is a film that made an honest attempt to bring the genre to a new direction. He might have missed the mark overall but it was not for the lack of trying or nascent talent still trying to find the right stylistic expression. I have watched many exorcism flicks in the 37 years since I took my wife to see that movie and at least this one had some factors that readily caught my eye.
In a change from the first part the filmmaker has thankfully decided to abandon the ‘found footage’ format. It was novel back in 1999 with the ‘The Blair Witch Project ‘but since then its impact has been heavily diluted by overuse and out right abuse. The original had a novel approach of a disenchanted preacher eking out a living with exorcisms who offers to show a fake ceremony to a film crew. Naturally things go terribly wry when the possession is all too real. This sequel opens with the summary of past events necessary to bridge the films and justify the ‘2’in the title. We then move into the current portion of the story. A young couple, Lily (Boyana Balta) and Jared (Judd Lormand) are awoken in the middle of the night. Upon investigating they find a young woman Nell (Ashley Bell), the subject of the failed exorcism and demonic cult ritual the ended the previous movie points are awarded to engaging the same actress to reprise her role here reinforcing the continuity. It also explains the catatonic condition Lily and Jared find her in. the immediately take her to the hospital. She is placed in a home for girls run by Frank Merle (Muse Watson) and after a number of months makes sufficient progress to find employment as a chamber maid in a nearby hotel. Another sign of apparent recovery is noted when her persistent nightmares cease.
Neil manages to make a few friends and after work one evening they decide to watch a costume parade in town. Neil notices that several of the masked men are definitely watching her with a keen interest. Her affect takes a dark turn and Neil has the distinct feeling that the demon worshiped by the cult, Abalam, has returned for her. Back at the home a girl dies of inexplicable seizures sending a foreboding gloom that pervades everything near Neil. She is contacted by a secret society, the Order of the Right Hand, which has been keeping her under observation through Cecile (Tarra Riggs). The evil surrounding Neil grows stronger as Chris (Spencer Treat Clark), a co-worker with a crush on her, commits suicide. Two members of the Order, Calder (David Jensen) and Jefferey (E. Roger Mitchell) who tell her the demon is enamored of her and agree to help rid her of the evil spirit. Unfortunately the grip the demon has on her is much too strong.
Gass-Donnelly has been building his resume predominately through short films. In many cases this is an ideal training ground for a burgeoning auteur and he seems to reinforce that concept. It also explains the somewhat episodic feel to the movie, albeit one overcome by a strong sense of continuity that holds the movie together. He is caught in the quagmire of most horror oriented filmmakers; the line between overt, special effects driven thrills and psychologically drive approach that while far more effective is significantly more difficult to achieve. Considering the point he is in his career Gass-Donnelly does strike a reasonable balance between the two methodologies.
One aspect that did work for me, much to my own surprise, was the effectiveness of the juxtaposition of possession and demonic cult came across. It you think about the two sub-genres have sufficient points in common to support a cross over but the combination, although attempted in several cases, has not really caught on. In the previous film the combination was utilized as the final reveal exploding the grand climax. In this movie the concept is readily employed as the foundation for a continuation of the story in an organic way. The first film did leave the audience with enough unresolved questions to warrant a sequel and this movie provided an entertaining answer to most of them. What serves as connective tissue in the flick is the stylistic direction and knack for proper pacing typically not seen in this stage of a filmmaker’s career. It certain piqué interest in what he takes on next. Gass-Donnelly also demonstrates an ability to reinforce the mood crafted by a solid story and straightforward direction with the musical queues he employs. The lesson that less is better frequently is one not observed until a horror film director has several feature films in the genre under his belt. The film may not achieve everything you are looking for in a horror flick but it has its moments and is fun as a popcorn movie.
Shooting In New Orleans Featurette