This review contains spoilers for The Last Exorcism. Obviously.
Those of us who aren’t so enthralled with the found footage genre will be happy to learn that The Last Exorcism ditches that particular gimmick. It also ditches something else integral to the first movie: the cult’s victimization of Nell.
See, something weird went on between The Last Exorcism and The Last Exorcism II. In-universe, Nell managed to get away from the cult and, seemingly, the demon. Out-universe, someone behind the movie decided to completely change course.
Now, I personally am not complaining about this change. Everyone else seems to be. While the first movie got a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, this one got friggin’ 16%. It didn’t fare much better on imdb, where they got 5.6/10 and 3.8/10, respectively. So it’s fairly safe to say that most people were disappointing by this sequel.
Me, I liked it.
The movie begins with a young couple discovering Nell in their apartment. She’s clearly suffering some kind of psychotic break and barely seems human. When she’s identified, it comes out that she’s the only known survivor of the events of the first movie; it’s implied that either the deaths of the documentary crew (and possibly some others, including her father) were purposefully covered up by the cult or the bonfire really did get out of control–perhaps thanks to Cotton’s last-minute attempts to combat the demon–and decimated the cult.
Regardless of how she escaped, she’s ready to move on with her new life at a New Orleans halfway house for troubled young women. But she’s not out of the woods; as she enjoys the bustling city with her new friends, she’s being followed by a mysterious masked figure. Strangers are following her, telling her about how she’s “been missed” and “can’t run”. Mysterious phone calls seem to mock her about her past and threaten her future. She’s feeling herself up in her sleep and dreaming about things she did when she was possessed.
She’s kind of a wreak… and then, as things start to escalate, she falls apart completely after meeting the not-as-helpful-as-they-appear “Order of the Right Hand”, a member of whom tells her about an “old prophecy about the end of times”.
They will be brought about when the demon takes an innocent. Not by force, but by her own free will. And our destruction will follow. I saw your devil, and he’s planning something for you.
So basically, The Last Exorcism 2 is the story of what happens to Nell after Cotton’s cameras stop rolling. And while there was a lot in the movie that I enjoyed, I can see exactly where everyone else was disappointed.
There’s a fairly large disconnect between the two movies. The Last Exorcism is a found footage film, while 2 is not. The Last Exorcism focuses on Cotton’s quest to expose exorcism culture as fraud, while 2 focuses on Nell’s quest to get away from Abalam and live a normal life. The villain of The Last Exorcism is the Satanic cult working in conjunction with the demon; the villain of 2 is the demon, whose motives seem to have changed completely, leaving the audience with only guesses as to why.
See, in the first movie, Nell is initially thought to be a schizophrenic or otherwise psychotic young woman who has been sexually abused and impregnated by her father… until it turns out in the final few minutes of the film that, no, she really is possessed by a demon, there really is a cult in the area, and her fetus didn’t even appear human.
And then in two, the cult is either dead or mysteriously elsewhere, the fetus is just a haunting memory, and the demon isn’t so much possessing Nell as it is stalking her like a creepy ex-boyfriend.
The demon that was inside you, it wants you. But not like before. I think it… loves you. And it’s powerless without you.
I guess my only problem with this movie is that it doesn’t seem to build on the first movie so much as it seems to cherry-pick bits and pieces of it. Whole subplots–mainly the cult’s intentions and the exact nature of the fetus–are abandoned in favor of new mythology about Nell’s apparent uniqueness, the demon’s obsession with her, and a vague Apocalypse.
When I see that so many people who enjoyed the first movie hated this sequel, I assume that it’s the replacement of the cult and the fetus with the Nell/Abalam relationship and Apocalypse that bothered them, and if that’s the case, I get it. I kind of bugs me that the screenwriters would abandon those elements altogether… but on the other hand, I much prefer the mythology of the second film, and I would have loved if they could have managed to properly reconcile it with the mythology of the first film. At the moment, that seems like it’s going to have to be the realm of fanfiction, as I doubt this franchise is going to get any more screentime. (And while we’re on the subject… I would love to see that fanfiction. I’d also love to see a Last Exorcism/Paranormal Activity crossover. But then, I’m weird.)
So I guess what I’m saying is that The Last Exorcism 2 was a fun movie for me, but there’s definitely a good reason for fans of the first film to hate it. Really, it’s one of those movies that you don’t even need to watch the predecessor to understand; so little of the first movie is carried on into this one that I’d tell anyone interested in watching this one to just go ahead and do it, the original be damned.
That said, The Last Exorcism is probably a better Halloween recommendation. The Last Exorcism 2 is a good recommendation for… well, if you liked The Haunting of Molly Hartley, you’ll love The Last Exorcism 2.