The title sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? “The Last Exorcism 2.” Sequels are one of the curses of the movie business, and they are so common that the professionals who name movies either didn’t notice what they were doing or, more likely, they didn’t think enough of their audience to find a title less self-deflating.
I’m sure it was important for commercial reasons to associate this new film with the original, which was a good scary movie, one which horror movie fans remember with enthusiasm. But then the new title also gives the new movie a standard to meet. And believe me, junior is not of the same quality as was its forerunner.
The 2010 movie was one of those hand-held camera things, like “Blair Witch Project” only made with more intelligent care. The footage recorded what a small documentary-film crew saw when they went out into the Louisiana backwoods with a famous area preacher. Cotton Marcus was a likable huckster who agreed to do one last “exorcism” of a demon before retiring from the pulpit altogether.
So there was a comic element to the early scenes. As he preached, he introduced a recipe for banana bread into his high-soaring sermon, and the crowd behaved as if they only heard the sound of his voice, not the words he spoke. He showed the camera how he prepared props—a smoking cross, for example—and rehearsed slight of hand tricks he would use when they reached the Sweetzer farm.
There lived a pregnant sixteen-year-old girl named Nell—played by Ashley Bell, who was not important enough in the original film that I felt I needed to credit her in the review. Nell had done some sleep-walking and may have slashed some farm animals to death. Her father, Louis, had been isolating her from the outside world, which he thought was a bad influence.
The ritual was supposedly successful, and then Marcus took Nell to the hospital. But here the movie turned scary, surprising those of us who had been smiling and nodding along as we watched the minister’s flim-flam.
The second film begins showing us the hand-held camera lying on the ground, apparently near where the orgiastic last scene of the original movie ended. Then we see Nell. Bell and the Louisiana settings are the only things that actually transferred from the first film.
She is now getting out of a psychiatric hospital in New Orleans and is being moved into a sort of halfway house for girls freed from cults. You see, already the premise is weaker. Charismatic southern preachers exist and look good on the screen. Well-kept frame residential homes for such a specific breed of cat? Maybe not so much.
The house father is played by Muse Watson, who used to appear frequently on TV’s NCIS. Nell makes friends with an inmate played by Julia Garner. What’s terrific about “2” is its use of New Orleans imagery. It is all costumes and glyphs, oak shade and old but well-kept low-rises.
Nell is frightened by her dreams and sees people change into demons. A nurse’s aid from the asylum finds her and takes her home for another exorcism. But this ritual isn’t up to the one in the first movie, and the ending won’t seem the product of story preparation nor will it seem conclusive.
Which means we are probably going to have a “Last Exorcism 3” come to town in the next couple of years. Unintentional self-satire is funny, but there is also something sad about it.