One of the few shining beacons of hope in the found footage deluge after Paranormal Activity was The Last Exorcism. The quiet, unassuming horror film follows a religious con-man who earned his living performing fake exorcisms. He meets his match when he actually encounters a young woman, Nell, with an actual demon inside her. The Last Exorcism Part II picks up right where the original left off. Nell survived her horrid ordeal in the backwoods of Louisiana and winds up a ward of the state. She's moved into a halfway house for teenage girls in New Orleans and is taught how to integrate into mainstream society. Nell is aimless, working a low wage job as a hotel housekeeper and finding her place in the world. Then her dark past catches up with her.
At least I think that's the plot of The Last Exorcism Part II. The film is an aimless mess of horror cliches with no direction or even inherent cinematic quality until the final few minutes.
Screenwriters Damien Chazelle and Ed Gass-Donnelly go all-in on a few conceits that are entirely hit or miss. Since Nell is completely lost in the world, the story has no clear direction for the first act at all. She lives her life, day by day, cleaning hotel rooms, exploring New Orleans, and slowly befriending the other girls in the halfway house. Then the demon begins to rear his ugly head again in the second act and her aimless wandering becomes a paranoid hesitation.
The last act sees a more traditional plot finally emerge and it's too little, too late. You're drowned in an overwhelming sameness. Every scare plays to the same beats. Every moment of character development is given equal weight and every ensemble player is just as important as every other. When a street performer dressed as a silver statue with one scene and the man running the halfway house appearing in every other scene have equal importance to the plot, there's a focus problem.
The introduction of an actual narrative is welcome, but it's surprisingly underdeveloped. It's hard to describe, not for spoiler purposes but for actual factual purposes. I still don't know who the random new characters are at the end, what organization they belong to, and what they actually attempted to do in the climax of the film beyond one vague ritual. The only character to invest in is Nell and she's just a replay of her role in the original film.
The Last Exorcism Part II falls for all the worst trappings of a horror sequel. Stylistically, it's a completely different experience: poorly lit, pumped full of jump scares, and cliched beyond belief. It's also a total rehash of the first film without the irony or edge of the original. It's also doggedly faithful to the original, refusing to explore any new ground in an interesting or even meaningful way. The whole thing is just a series of missed opportunities.
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