No one will fault you if you don’t remember the 2010 found-footage flick The Last Exorcism; it belongs in the ever-growing pantheon of promising-but-bungled horror films that the smaller genre labels churn out in alarming quantities every year.  Now, having made a good return at the box office the first time around, the story moves into its next chapter, following Ashley Bell’s Nell Sweetzer as she adjusts to life in a group home after escaping from a demonic cult.

In case you don’t remember the first Last (shouldn’t it have been called The Penultimate Exorcism?), Last Exorcism 2 treats us to numerous flashbacks and even footage from the first film via YouTube videos, which display Bell’s impressive contortion skills. Indeed, it’s Bell’s physical intensity that’s largely responsible for Last Exorcism 2 escaping the lowest rungs of genre schlock and managing to be, if not compelling, at least watchable. Her eyes bore into everyone around her, and she’s constantly in anxious motion like a feral animal — yet her desire to fit in and be accepted is palpable, recalling a bit of the sincerity and longing of Sissy Spacek’s performance in Carrie. Set in New Orleans around the time of Mardi Gras, Last Exorcism 2 makes good use of its surroundings, cultivating an aesthetic that’s whimsical and ominous at the same time. Think of Anne Rice lite, without the vampires.

The film’s story is trite at best; every now and then we get a frisson of suspense, but the overall tone is contentedly predictable: girl escapes cult; girl tries to bond with other girls; girl meets boy; things quickly go to hell, pretty much literally. Soon we’re at the scene of another exorcism, once again bearing witness to poor Nell writhing in physical and spiritual agony. This time, though, the shocks are much more cerebral than in the original; many a Freudian flourish are thrown in, in place of the buckets of blood that drenched the original. The result pretty boring overall, but I couldn’t help but leave the theatre impressed that it hadn’t been far, far worse.

The Last Exorcism 2, like its protagonist, is something of an enfant terrible; retaining only its original producer, Eli Roth, the sequel was funded and distributed by a separate set of companies altogether from those associated with the original.  Directing privileges were passed from Daniel Stamm (about to helm the American remake of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs) to Canadian indie star Ed Gass-Donnelly (Small Town Murder Songs), who brings a lushness and space to the proceedings that was completely lacking in the original’s claustrophobic, jiggly cinematography.  While I can’t say anything truly glowing about the film, it’s worth remarking on how deftly (if narrowly) Gass-Donnelly and his team have managed to salvage this vehicle from the scrapheap of total cliché.  I hope both Gass-Donnelly and Bell have futures ahead of them that consist of something more than cast-off sequels.

– By Lita Robinson