It's become old hat to knock exorcism films for not being especially rich in creativity, so it was something of note when 2010's The Last Exorcism proved to be the rare exception. Produced by Eli Roth, the film smartly played with our perceptions of the genre and demonic possession, following a faithless Reverend who took to cashing in on fake exorcisms, before ultimately running into the real thing. It asked some serious questions about faith, explored religion's stranglehold on rural America, and even touched in small ways on domestic abuse. The film brought the familiar genre into the modern age of YouTube videos and TV exposés, while also creating a great tragic figure in the sweetly innocent backwater naïf, Nell Sweetzer.
From there we see just how truly sheltered Nell has been all along. Totally unfamiliar with the world at large, she's fascinated by things the other girls take for granted. Her benevolent caretaker repeatedly hammers home the idea that everything she went through previously was just a figment of her imagination. The film begins to take shape in a promising way as director and co-writer Ed Gass-Donnelly begins to explore Nell's awakening to a life she never knew existed. She begins working as a hotel maid, where she starts to feel the first sexual stirrings for a boy she works with. In one amazing and very telling scene, Nell listens intently as a couple in a nearby room has sex, the look of her face a mixture of awe and new-found arousal.
Nell's inability to properly acclimate to society provides more dread and genuine fright than any of the lame jump scares Gass-Donnelly employs later on. She's such a sweet-faced girl who clearly doesn't understand what's happening to her, so we can't help but fear the impact of another possession. To defeat the demon, Nell turns to a handful of unfamiliar characters we have no investment in to perform the same old exorcism we've seen a thousand times before. No cliché goes unused, there's even a chicken sacrifice, and it's far more silly than scary.
The Last Exorcism was a smart film that used the horror genre to explore current social issues, and in that way proved to be a superior piece of work. The sequel tricks us into believing the aims are similar, but soon devolves into just another cheap knock-off of The Exorcist.
Trav's Tip: Tune in to my interview with Ashley Bell where she discusses working with Eli Roth on the film; how she physically prepares for the role; and her favorite horror movies.