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I keep saying I’m done with found-footage/mockumentary genre releases. There are too many of them and the really popular ones are so boring. But filmmakers keep making exceptions to the rule forcing me to eat my words. For every one of Paranormal Activity’s sequels and rip-offs, there seems to be a [REC] and a Lake Mungo. One of these exceptions was Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, which was especially surprising, because the only thing more played-out than a found footage horror movie is another damn exorcism movie. But Stamm, who had just come off the non-horror mockumentary drama A Necessary Death understood how to best serve Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland’s character-centric, rather than scare-centric, screenplay. He also assembled a very good cast, headed by Patrick Fabian as the jaded, but ultimately likable Reverend Cotton Marcus and Ashley Bell as the poor girl that he’s called on to exorcise. The Last Exorcism works very well right up until the limp thud of an ending that undermines so much of Stamm and his cast’s efforts that it actually left me somewhat cold to the entire film. Still, it was a solid effort and about 90% successful, so I’ve recommended it a couple times over the last few years.

Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated), The
Unfortunately, while that slapdash climax was just a disappointing ending to an otherwise good movie, it was a harbinger of the quality of The Last Exorcism’s unnecessary sequel. Erroneously titled The Last Exorcism Part II (one assumes the producers toyed with the subtitle The Laster Exorcism), this follow-up starts where the last film left off. The formerly possessed Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is found creeping around some poor couple’s house and sent to a mental hospital, where, after a bit of comatose non-activity, she ‘awakens,’ unable to remember any of the horrifying things that happened to her. She’s sent to a halfway house for wayward girls, run by a nice gentleman named Frank (Muse Watson). After making friends with the other girls and learning the joys of modern music, Mardi Gras parades, and, tee hee, boys, her world begins to crumble as the demon Abalam starts reappearing in her dreams and his followers start bugging her in the streets.

Like the latest [REC] sequel, The Last Exorcism Part II doesn’t try to continue the franchise story with more found footage/mockumentary material. Director Ed Gass-Donnelly had previously directed the generally well-received thriller Small Town Murder Songs, which brought him to the attention of the producers, similarly to the way Stamm’s A Necessary Death helped him score the gig on the original film. Free of the found-footage gimmick, Gass-Donnelly is free to craft a mood and story using traditional filmmaking techniques. His scope widescreen frame definitely makes for a good-looking picture with a strong sense of tactile sensation. He also underlines the main character’s growing paranoia pretty well, though he often over-spikes the suspense with cheap jump scares. On the other hand, there’s also a sense that perhaps Gass-Donnelly is taking the whole thing a little too seriously. Stamm’s original film was impeccably paced and not afraid to laugh at itself a bit, but Part II is dead serious and super-dramatic for its entire runtime. Gass-Donnelly attempts to recreate the feeling of something like The Shining with still, repeating, impeccably controlled images. The repetition is meant to instill unease, but it ends up feeling monotonous and the movie itself uneventful for most of its runtime.

Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated), The
The screenplay, co-written by Gass-Donnelly and Damien Chazelle, is sort of interesting from a conceptual standpoint, at least as the film begins, recalling the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, Rosemary’s Baby, and even a smidge of Exorcist 2. It scores a lot of points early for not simply retelling the same story the first film told, then successfully sets up a warm environment for Nell; an environment we know will go all to hell sooner or later. Things begin to fall apart as the writing team tries to expand the mythology of the original film. About an hour in to the film, a collection of new facts are introduced, including a whole cabal of ‘good witches’ (for lack of a better term) that are going to help Nell combat her demon. I guess these people were just biding their time, waiting for her world to start falling apart all over again. The second two-thirds of the film plays out like a humourless version of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, culminating in a ‘kitchen sink’ style exorcism scene. The extended climax deserves some points for trying so damn hard to surprise us, but ends up being accidentally silly. There are some creepy, smartly unexplained touches sprinkled throughout the story – a nurse nonchalantly clips a lock of then-comatose Nell’s hair and puts it in a pouch with a bunch of other hair – and the ending is a better ‘downer’ than the last film, but it never comes together as a proper movie.

The version I watched for this review is ‘unrated’ and about five minutes longer than the version released in theaters. I didn’t really notice anything that would constitute an R-rating, especially not in terms of the film’s violence. If anything, the original PG-13 intent holds the film back, because Nell’s sexuality is such an important factor in the story.

Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated), The

Video


Shot digitally with Arri Alexa cameras, The Last Exorcism Part II comes to Blu-ray in full 1080p video, framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Gass-Donnelly and cinematographer Brendan Steacy aim for a clean look in contrast to the original film’s dirtier and usually warmer imagery, though oranges, reds, and earth tones still play a pretty important role in the overall palette. There’s a weird sheen of artificiality to the digitally composited hues – all the colours are oddly homogenized and slightly de-saturated. This is actually effective within the context of the film and appears very clear here in HD. Contrast levels are set relatively low (blacks are never quite ‘all the way’ black) and bright, super-plush lighting schemes also blowout some of the details, but the deep focus practices help give the transfer complex natural patterns within a single frame. Foregrounds details are more smoothed over, but not at the risk of overall texture (weird palette aside, its not a plastic-looking film). The gradations are occasionally struck with minor hue impurities and blocking effects (the dark, warmer interiors of the medium’s house, for example, display low level noise in the backgrounds), but edge enhancement is minimal.

Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated), The

Audio


The lack of faux-documentation style is most obvious in The Last Exorcism Part II’s visuals and storytelling, but it’s also pretty clear that the sound designers have more freedom to explore weird and usually abstract ‘horror’ noises. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is defined by wide dynamic ranges between eerie silences and big, booming walls of nondescript sound. Cool touches include the lively sounds of a street fair slowly dulling to aural mud as Nell’s focus wanes, the muffled sounds of hotel life bleeding through windows into the stereo/surround channels as the camera pans by them, birds slamming into the windows of a church from all angles, and the buzz of electronic devices trying to communicate with Nell. The exorcism sequence is a booming LFE tester, but it’s the final moments that give the mix the most to handle, since the budget clearly wasn’t available to convey destruction any other way. Composer Michael Wandmacher’s score (he also wrote music for The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, the only movie with a more contradictory title than The Last Exorcism Part II) is an occasionally aggressive, usually vague mix of jump cues and synthesizer-enhanced symphonic scares.

Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated), The

Extras


This terse little collection of extras begins with a commentary from Gass-Donnelly and producer Eli Roth. The director informs us that the track was recorded the morning after the film’s premiere, which means the participants are a mix of tired and excited. The problem with this track is that Roth is a very big personality. This is usually a good thing for a commentary track, but, in this case, Roth spends a lot of energy praising Gass-Donnelly’s efforts, which is sweet, but kind of boring to listen to. Still, both commentators are good speakers and there’s a lot of information to absorb here, much of it concerning the film’s themes as they compare to the first film. Funnily enough, early in the track, Roth jokes about us ‘bloggers’ that ‘have to listen to the commentary’ while trying to figure out why someone would listen to the commentary for a movie they didn’t like. Sometimes it’s a pleasure, Eli. Usually it’s not, but sometimes the filmmakers’ really do make me wish I had enjoyed a movie more than I did.

The rest of the extras are brief EPK featurettes made mostly to sell the film, including Nell’s Story  (2:40, HD) and Shooting in New Orleans (2:20, HD), both featuring interviews with producer Eli Roth (who takes more credit than expected for various story elements) and actress Ashley Bell, and Hair Salon Scare – The Last Exorcism Part II Goes Viral (2:20, HD).

Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated), The

Overall


Apparently, the producers of the Last Exorcism movies are trying to establish a brand of films that end very abruptly. In the case of the original film, I believe the intent was one of finality, but, here in the sequel, there’s an obvious ‘to be continued’ vibe, similar to the final minutes of a Resident Evil or Saw movie. In the end, The Last Exorcism Part II is handsomely crafted and features a fine central performance from lead Ashley Bell, but it’s sort of a non-entity as a stand-alone feature. It’s a pastiche of ideas that might have worked, had they come to a proper fruition. Personally, I kind of hope they don’t make anymore of these, because the imaginary implications of the film’s final moments are so much more interesting than the franchise’s limited budget can possibly deliver upon. That said, I still kind of like the first movie and there’s enough in this sequel to make me think the producers might be able to do something special with a third film. This Blu-ray features a very nice transfer, a dynamic DTS-HD MA track, and a fun commentary track.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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