Like horror's answer to F For Fake, Daniel Stamm's original The Last Exorcism (2010) exposed all the manipulative tricks of the exorcist's - and the exorcism movie's - trade, and then, in a curveball conclusion, tricked us with them anyway. Offering itself up as a deconstructive endpoint to the whole subgenre, it did not, as its name implies, lend itself to a sequel.
Yet if this ludicrously-titled follow-up sounds like a crass cash-in, and if director/co-writer Ed Glass-Donnelly (Small Town Murder Songs) certainly steers things back to a more predictable formula (good and evil struggle over an innocent woman's soul) and more cliched scares (a dog suddenly barking, birds hitting windows, etc.), the devil here is in the details, some of which are strikingly novel. As Nell (Ashley Bell, still excellent) reemerges traumatised from her experiences at the hands of a backwoods Satanic cult, she moves into a New Orleans shelter for damaged girls, gradually embracing a more secular lifestyle - even if her past keeps resurfacing both in nightmarish visions and in Youtube clips (excerpted from the first film) of her earlier possession.
Indeed, Nell has become a freakish internet sensation - and in keeping with modern times, the most diabolical temptation that both she and the entire world must face is not the rock music to which she now listens, or her burgeoning sexual desire for others, but rather that peculiar affliction of the online age, her own rampaging narcissism (emblematised by a recurrent image of Nell looking in the mirror). It is self-love that keeps Nell from submitting herself to the requisite act of Jesus-like self-sacrifice that all other exorcism films require, leading to a boldly unconventional ending that makes another sequel as unimaginable as it is perhaps inevitable.
In a nutshell: This sequel upgrades the conventional possession plot to the internet age. Like its young heroine, it is not without flaws, but fresh enough to attract attention right to the bitter end.
By Anton Bitel