I’m usually wary of horror sequels, but when I heard that The Last Exorcism Part II was being released, I was stoked. I saw the first Last Exorcism on DVD, sitting pretty in my ivory tower of skepticism, and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out not to be a steaming pile of dung. As I watched naysaying exorcist Rev. Cotton Marcus and his film crew try to rid young Nell Sweetzer of what they believe is an imagined demon, every expression and movement built tension. It’s not a perfect film, but I enjoyed its careful pacing, its documentary style, and the fact that I joined the good Reverend in questioning Nell’s predicament all the way to the cult-ridden end.
The problem with horror sequels – and maybe sequels in general – is that the audience goes in with expectations. When we watch Saw II, we expect twisted games of life and death with a greenish tint. When we see 28 Weeks Later, we expect a harrowing and non-cheesy zombie invasion of epic proportions. When we rent (note: not buy) Leprechaun 2, we expect horrible and often gross things to happen to the whomever takes the gold. I employed this formula with Last Exorcism Part II and expected another downhome docu-thriller with contortionism to boot.
This was my mistake.
Unlike the first installment, Part II abandons the documentary concept and turns the ominous “Gotcha!” music up full blast as we join Nell in her new life after being rescued from the cult. While Part I took its time establishing likable characters, Part II slathers on the jump scares and foreshadowing from the get-go. I spent the better part of the first half of the movie rolling my eyes because it is so drastically dissimilar to its predecessor. Attempts to adapt the plot as a sequel are clumsy and few, and what I thought were obvious antagonistic continuations from Part I, like Nell’s crazy brother, Caleb, were nowhere to be seen. It’s obvious that the studio slapped on the Last Exorcism label for the purpose of luring me and my like-minded brethren to the movies.
Once I accepted this, I began to enjoy Part II. We experience the story from Nell’s point of view as she is confronted by the demons (Har!) of her past. She is visited by her apparently deceased father (who we last saw blindfolded and tied to a pole) who warns her not to be seduced by the demon. Her new boyfriend, Chris, who has a hard enough time seducing her without otherworldly powers, is drawn like a moth to the flame with similar consequences. A team of seemingly expert medical exorcists assemble to remove the last traces of the demon from Nell’s body at the insistence of her hoodoo nursemaid. It’s not the same brand of nail-biting that we knew and loved from Part I, but its Paranormal Activity-meets-The Craft-meets-The Unborn vibe makes it worthy of horror audiences in its own way.