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The last "Last Exorcism" certainly was not the "last" as it is followed by this pretty disastrous sequel that is somehow trying to bridge a gap for a potential third entry to turn the franchise into a trilogy - because any mildly successful horror series must at least have three films to show for its financially lucrative status. The first entry was quite excellent - despite a very familiar premise, the film had a surprisingly fresh take on the genre - it had unexpectedly dark twists and turns, ones that spun something rather disturbing into the whole narrative. Nasty church leaders, equally horrendous family, and an innocent, religious girl of age caught in the middle of one horrendous satanic ritual. It ended on a slightly ambiguous but clearly satisfying note, one that signalled the danger of a sequel and therefore here it is: one disappointing scene after another strung together to overall achieve something so dull that could potentially put a welcome end to the series.
And yet trying to milk the franchise for as much cash as possible, here's the sequel, in which very little happens, and one that is frustratingly toned down when it comes to the shock factor (were they aiming for a lower age restriction rating or something? Certainly seems that way). Once again we have the same girl who's being pursued by a relentless demon that is determined to possess an innocent, pure body so that it can have its wicked, supernatural ways. What it really wants is not very clear, but we cease to care when it takes the narrative so long to make some kind of impact. Yes, Nell (Ashley Bell) is having difficulties running away from her troubled past, in which she was forced into a part of a creepy satanic cult that ended with a botched exorcism (aren't they always?) followed by a twisted, demented birthing ceremony in the middle of a huge bonfire.
Having moved into a nice group home for lost/traumatised girls (all of them automatically turning into a long list of victims - which isn't an entirely bad thing), Nell is settling in working away diligently as a hotel chambermaid although it's not long until the usual frightening occurrences start haunting her. You know, the usual bumpy things, twisty body contortion movements, frothy seizures, demonic voices, weird eye colours, odd movements etc. She wants to lead a normal life and is surrounded by good people and friends who could realistically help her do just that. But we all know it's only a matter of time until her hopes and dreams are completely shattered as problems start to escalate and show no signs of calming down. She becomes more and more paranoid, convinced that Abalam (that demon who never gives up) is far from done with her. She sees men wearing silly masks watching her whenever she roams around the city, she has trouble sleeping, and sometimes oversleeps. Yes, this is her list of problems. Hardly anything too fascinating is there?
The first installment was presented in an excellent use of the handheld camera technique, but with this follow-up, the style is completely gone and lost, falling back to the old standard way of filming without ever providing something else for the audience to enjoy. Taking away what made the stepping stone of the franchise unique and ultimately creepy, here the scares are instead all very generic and a lot of them without much memorable impact. There are a few effective moments, ones that really ought to have been present more consistently throughout.
It's unclear to see just where the film is headed; there is a lot of meandering, and an addition of yet more supporting players who don't end up doing much. There is barely any tension built thanks to the incessantly slow development and shallow focus even on our lead actress. And when it does come up in its big final showdown, (yes, yet another botched exorcism, what else?) you're in for a huge disappointment. As a complete unimaginative rehash minus the stylistic push, it all feels tedious and repetitive, one you wouldn't feel like enduring even for a second. It's no fun when there's a complete lack of mystery as to what is happening - as from the previous film we've learned all there is to know about this omnipotent evil force. The "climatic" scene is frustratingly short (but not sweet), and with cheap gimmicks that are difficult to admire when we have seen so many better versions beforehand. It's noisy, it's almost farcical, and a huge waste of time and potential.
Bell, the young actress who received enormous praise in her successful debut (some even suggested an Oscar nomination which isn't all that absurd a suggestion) doesn't seem to have any difficulty slipping back into her breakout role, although everyone else around her stands around rather awkwardly equipped only with their clunky dialogue to fend for themselves. Bell's purely innocent and completely clueless nature is always fun to watch as we sense that she's been marked for all sorts of bad things even from the very start. The dark effects the demon has on her are translated well thanks to the widely versatile Bell in various parts of the film. With her performance there are hints that "Part II" could have recaptured the glory moments of its predecessor but the sad thing is such thing never comes to fruition. As Nell completely falls apart thanks to the demon, this gives Bell a real chance to show off her talent and she shows that she really belongs in better films.
Perhaps if another sequel is given the go-ahead signal, it will allow the franchise a chance to stir things up and go all-out for a truly shocking finish. After all, this "Part II" ends on yet another cliffhanger with much potential, one that could surely be developed further, venturing into more daring territory that might certainly be worth a look, unlike this monotonous, pedestrian piece of work.