Fire, brimstone and eternal damnation are so passé in this surprisingly decent horror sequel.
Released under the pompous and completely unmerited 'Eli Roth Presents' banner, 2o10's The Last Exorcism earned $67 million from a very modest budget. You didn’t need to sit down with the Tarot cards to foretell a sequel. Ed Gass-Donnelly’s clumsily titled follow-up ditches the found-footage set-up favoured by the director of the original, Daniel Stamm, for a more traditional mode of storytelling.
What could have been another routine and exploitative grab-for-cash reveals itself to in fact be a creative slice of schlock. Taking a leaf from John Boorman’s maligned flop, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), the plot focuses on the theme of rehabilitation, placing Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) in the febrile environs of New Orleans.
Bell’s portrayal of the troubled farm girl is likely to make the actress a minor horror icon. It’s her ability to create a character that is fragile, jittery and, more often than not, bewildered, and juxtaposing such a persona with added layers of freakish verve, berserk meltdowns and temptress allure that impresses so much.
A mischievous approach to certain well-trodden clichés is another strong feature. The mythology, having disrobed its overt Catholic garb and strict Roman Rituals rules, is wide open for exploration. The Last Exorcism: Part II, like its predecessor, is a wily trickster. The evil spirit, known as Abalam, possesses not out of malice, but desire and love. The typical threat of fire, brimstone and eternal damnation is so passé.
This twisted approach, in fact, directly recalls the modus operandi of those vengeful creatures in Tim Powers’ fantasy novel, 'The Stress Of Her Regard': supernatural entities that hunt down and wreak havoc on the lives of their spiritually betrothed when feeling jilted or betrayed. It’s best to just give in. The demonic possession subgenre, thanks to The Last Exorcism Part II, now carries with it a dash of romanticism.
Nell’s eventual rejection of Christian martyr/victim status is a massive slap in the face to tradition. Stamm’s and Gass-Donnelly’s films have been on the side of the (fallen) angels all along. The Last Exorcism Parts I and II, therefore, levitate well above ordinary.
The Last Exorcism’s finale does not lend itself to continuation.
Lop-sided title aside, don’t write this off as just another lazy cash-in sequel.
An inventive Satanic shocker, which is much more than we expected.