The Last Exorcism Part 2 made me long for the comparatively breakneck pace of the first film. While there’s some fascinating stuff happening in found footage on an indie level, the mainstream features hinging on the conceit are still (for the most part) stuck in the “nothing happens for the first 80 minutes” mode. Since this installment drops the POV approach I was actually kind of excited for the format shakeup here, stupidly thinking that maybe things would be sped along and an actual story would be told. Nope! If anything, this new sequel breaks new ground in treading water, wasting time and general narrative inertia. It’s an almost Herculean feat of nothingness.
Unencumbered by the justification of camera angles, The Last Exorcism Part 2 roams free in the slow burn wilderness of modest expectations. It picks up right where the first film left off, looks around, and scurries into oblivion. Nell Sweetzer – played by the quite good Ashley Bell – still isn’t quite right. After she crawls into the wrong bed in the wrong house she’s taken in by the kindly Frank Merle [Muse Watson], who places her in what basically amounts to a halfway house for troubled girls. Ostensibly troubled, I should say, since the movie can’t be bothered to develop any of them beyond establishing one girl’s disregard for stereo imaging by sharing her iPod earbuds with Nell five seconds after meeting her. Uninterestingly enough, this may be the first halfway house in cinema history populated entirely by normal people.
Nell gets a job as a maid at a local hotel and finds herself intrigued by all of the carnal sounds emitting from its hallways. This is actually one area in which the film does some nice character work. You can sense Nell’s temptation, not only to explore her own sexuality – but to be normal. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few nice character beats here featuring her grappling with New Orleans, and life, in general. But short films have character beats too and there’s no reason this movie needed to be longer than a 15 minute webisode. The film just plays these beats over and over again like a mobius strip until it looks at its watch and decides it’s time for some sort of truncated third act. Truly, any sense of escalation is pure wishful thinking on the part of the audience after watching the same scenario unfold countless times.
Finally, the film realizes that it’s hit the mandatory minimum length for a theatrical feature and decides to wrap things up. Director Ed Gass-Donnelly, having wisely kept things in neutral for 75 minutes, needs only to tap slightly on the accelerator to establish that this sputtering wretch is indeed drawing to a close. There’s a quick exorcism (voodoo this time) that utterly lacks the visceral impact of the first film, a brief return to the halfway house and a denouement punctuated by flashes of what may be the worst CGI flames to ever leap out of a DCP.
It’s a shame because The Last Exorcism Part 2 features some good performances and decent technical work. Bell’s depiction of Nell is good enough to deserve a better movie. At one point I considered giving the film a pass on that merit alone. But that was before I realized I’d only been in the theater for 18 minutes and there were 70 left to go.