Ashley Bell returns as Nell in "The Last Exorcism Part II." (Patti Perret, CBS Films )
"The Last Exorcism Part II" is an effectively unnerving, slow-burn supernatural horror tale. The film is smartly different enough from the original to survive on its own, though it lacks some of the first film's sense of surprise.
Rather than the disorienting reversals of the first film — a faux documentary in which a team looking to debunk demonic possession comes across a story they can't explain away — "Part II" takes a conventional approach (no fake doc, no found footage) to its story. It picks up with the girl from the first film, Nell (Ashley Bell), seemingly free of the demon who possessed her and entering a transitional group home in New Orleans where she can try to build a new life. (Footage from the original film exists online within the world of the second, labeled "crazy girl possessed in woods.")
The sequel is directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly, who co-wrote the screenplay with Damien Chazelle. (Chazelle previously made the winsome jazz musical "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," which seems as unlikely a horror audition piece as one can imagine.) Both the first and second films are rated PG-13 but somehow the new film feels softer.
The first film was more messed up, existing in the register of crazy, and had a sexualized energy that is largely neutered in the second. A moment in the new film when a character slashes his own throat is handled in a way that is too discreet and bloodless, robbing the moment of its most visceral shock.
Just as in the first film, much of what works best in the new movie is thanks to Bell. She has an uncanny, quicksilver ability to flash between naiveté and a knowing darkness. Her physical contortions aren't used as much this time, but there is still a strong physicality to what she does.
Overlooking the semantic peculiarity in the title "The Last Exorcism Part II" — the inevitable sequel might be called "The Final Exorcism Again" — this movie isn't a waste of time. The film could actually stand to be a bit longer, as its final frenzy seems truncated somehow in relation to the methodical build-up that precedes it.
'The Last Exorcism Part II'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for horror violence, terror and brief language
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: In wide release
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