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The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/18/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/18/2013
I hate to sound jaded, but the rule of thumb is pretty simple -- if a movie makes money, even the slightest bit, the idea of a sequel is going to be explored. In the past, we've discussed the inherit challenges involved with making a sequel -- returning characters/actors, new/old story, etc. But, what if your movie hinged on a specific filmmaking device, crafting a sequel can be a tricky thing. When the "found footage" film movement emerged (or re-emerged) over a decade ago, making a sequel probably wasn't foremost on the filmmakers' minds, but we've seen this happen with Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, Quarantine 2, and Rec 2. The question is, do you try and convince the audience that more "found footage" was found, or do you go in a different direction? The Last Exorcism Part II takes a route which tries to cover several bases.
The Last Exorcism Part II takes place immediately following the events of The Last Exorcism. If you'll remember, in that film, teenager Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) was being investigated for a possible case of demonic possession. Nell is hospitalized, remembering little of what occurred on her family's farm. As she's now an orphan, Nell is sent to live in a home for wayward girls in New Orleans, which is overseen by Frank Merle (Muse Watson). As Nell has led a very sheltered life, the world of the city is very new to her, but she quickly adjusts, making friends with her housemates, getting a job, and even gaining the attention of a young man, Chris (Spencer Treat Clark). However, Nell can't shake the fact that she's being watched at times and she begins to have strange dreams. It also doesn't help that her dead father, Louis (Louis Herthum), keeps making appearances. Are memories of her ordeal simply intruding on everyday life or is something truly sinister about to happen to Nell?
The task of making a sequel to The Last Exorcism has fallen to Writer/Director Ed Gass-Donnelly and his co-writer Damien Chazelle. Instead of creating yet another "found footage" movie, they have decided to make The Last Exorcism Part II a straight-ahead narrative film. Does this make any sense? Maybe, maybe not, but other "found footage" sequels have gone this route. And, as noted above, unless very specific parameters were in place, why would we believe that more camcorder footage existed. The interesting thing about The Last Exorcism Part II is that its get a bit meta in the second half and we learn that the story takes place in a universe where the footage seen in The Last Exorcism is available for public consumption.
Putting the "will it or won't it be 'found footage'" debate aside, the movie gets off to a promising start. The opening, where the nearly catatonic and feral Nell is discovered is chilling and the fact that she goes to a sort of half-way house smacks of just enough realism to be palatable. Gass-Donnelly goes for a very slow-burn approach at first, focusing on Nell's new life and shooting many scenes in the bright sunlight and the colors environs of The Big Easy. Slowly, strange things begin to happen (as we would want in a horror movie) and Nell starts to suspect that she isn't safe.
I can easily see how some would have issues with the film's new format or the deliberate pacing of the first half, but I actually found myself drawn into the movie. Ashley Bell is very believable as the waifish Nell, and the fact that the film actually attempts some character development as we follow her on her new life earns it some points. However, things begin to fall apart in the second half. Gass-Donnelly carries the "slow burn" approach for a little too long, and the movie inches towards a "is anything ever going to happen?" feel. Then, suddenly things do begin to happen, but they don't gel or make much sense. The movie wants us to question if the events are really happening or are they in Nell's imagination. The problem is that it's really difficult to tell. Ambiguity and I don't know what's happening are two different things. Then, much like Exorcist III, the movie feels as if it must have an exorcism, which comes out of the blue. (Yes, fans of Exorcist III, I'm well aware that Blatty was forced to add the exorcism, so move on.) The last 15 minutes becomes a completely different film and this change will most any viewers left out of the movie. The film makes the bold choice of ending on a very bleak note, which is always risky.
Kudos must go to The Last Exorcism Part II for coming up with a somewhat original idea for why Nell is being pursued. (Although is it very reminiscent of a certain Spider-Man storyline, but I'll leave it at that.) And, again, I felt that the first half of the movie worked. But, this is a horror movie after all and the film's attempts to finally bring in the scares and the supernatural fall flat. What had been an interesting character study which could have gone in a very Polanski direction suddenly decided to bring in every cliche. One can debate whether or not a sequel to The Last Exorcism was necessary, and this sequel does take some risks, but the end result is unsatisfying and somewhat sullies the reputation of the first film.
The Last Exorcism Part II takes too many liberties with Mardi Gras masks on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The daytime exterior scenes, especially the Mardi Gras ones, look fantastic, as they are very crisp and show great colors. The image is never overly dark or bright. The colors look very good and natural. The level of detail is very good, as we can see every divet in the actor's faces. The depth is good as well, as the characters are clearly separate from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As has become the norm with these films, we get subtle whispering from the surround sound channels and a low-frequency hum throughout many scenes. This track handles these elements well, as the surround effects, along with the stereo effects, are detailed and show good separation. There are some nice moments where we can pick out individual sounds in the rear speakers.
The Last Exorcism Part II Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Ed Gass-Donnelly and Producer Eli Roth. "Nell's Story" (3 minutes) has actress Ashley Bell explaining the link between this film and The Last Exorcism. Roth explains why the locations fit the tone of the film in "Shooting in New Orleans" (2 minutes). "Hair Salon Scare - The Last Exorcism Part II Goes Viral" (2 minutes) shows a practical joke played on customers at a beauty parlor as part of a publicity stunt.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.