The Last Exorcism Part II: Not Really Real

In our last post, we discussed the first found footage exorcist cinema, The Last Exorcism.  What we have found interesting with this latest series of exorcism cinema is this desire to bring to the forefront the idea that such cases of exorcism are real, either through the filming techniques or the demonstration of being inspired by a true story, as was the case with The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  And while there would be more to come following these movies to negotiate the authenticity of exorcisms as real, the sequel to The Last Exorcism decided to go in a completely different direction — similar to how the bonkers sequel to The Exorcist went off in a completely mad direction.

Released only last year, in 2013, the film picks up from the ending of the first part, following the aftermath of the Satanic ritual that seemingly released a demon in the world through the supernatural pregnancy of Nell — which created a cross between Rosemary’s Baby and Constantine.  Gone is the documentary crew from the first film, as well as the Reverend Marcus, all either presumed killed by the demon or the demon’s worshipers.  Gone also are the original film’s director and writers, which probably explains the change in format.  Gone is the found footage structure, replaced by a far more standard cinematic approach to narrative.  It is The Blair Witch Project to Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 change all over again.

Overall, the movie suffers for the change.  The first movie was unique in its approach to telling us a story of an exorcism, and the found footage format was sufficient in developing a suspenseful atmosphere that develop some pretty good chills.  The sequel does not do any of that.  However, its focus on Nell, and her continued struggle with the demon Abalam, does make for perhaps the most feminist portrayal of a woman struggling with demonic possession in any of the exorcism cinema.  Here there is no priest dealing with his loss of faith and using the woman’s unfortunate predicament to cement his faith and the patriarchy of the Church.  Instead, we truly have the possessed woman as our protagonist, and her agency is at the center of the film.  Instead of someone choosing for her, it ends up being her choice of whether or not to be possessed and to gain the power that comes with it.  While the movie is not good, its central premise and the resolution to the conflict between Nell and Abalam is immensely interesting and important for our consideration of the role and relationship these films have to our society and culture.

Viewing this movie was also the first instance where my partner, Chris Olson, and I truly engaged in a dialogue during our liveblogging of the film via Facebook.  Having this conversation helped us bounce ideas off each other and come up with the insight we did into the film.  Thus, I will be retaining the nature of this interaction in this post by clearly indicating who said what when as we watched The Last Exorcism Part II.

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At the beginning of the film, Nell breaks into a house and is found almost feral.  She has no memory of what happened that night, but her family is dead and she becomes a ward of the state.  However, from the beginning, it doesn’t seem that Abalam has let her go, and as she tries to settle into a new normal, the world unravels around her.  This is how we reacted to that story.

Chris: Man, this movie just drops you right into the story.  And it’s interesting how this film and the first one are so much about questioning faith, especially in light of the sort of extreme faith represented in The Exorcist.

CarrieLynn: Also Nell is returned to a state of innocence even after what happened in the first one.  With city living (New Orleans, too, of all places) now being a source of corruption.

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Chris: Yeah, and we’re already seeing a bit of female companionship with this girl at the foster home or whatever it is.  So does this then equal lesbian undertones?

CarrieLynn: It does seem to be setting up the idea of sisterhood like I was told about The Conjuring.

Chris: It’s similar to the Blair Witch, in that it completely ditches the found footage aspect for the sequel, but different in that it doesn’t get metatextual. Just sort of explores the aftermath of the first film.  And by aftermath, I pretty much mean it resets everything.

CarrieLynn: Also quick to go through her recovery from her ordeals.

Chris: And yeah, definitely some lesbian subtext with the roommate there.  But there is also the heterosexual love interest that is introduced.

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CarrieLynn: Since we know the demon exists and are just waiting for its reappearance, then there is no need to beat around the bush with the idea that it doesn’t exist — just get it coming in as early as possible.

Chris: Also, there has to be something in her obsession with red boots. We saw it in the first one (the producer of the documentary gave her red boots), and it recurs in this one.

CarrieLynn: I think it’s a sign of having one’s feet planted in hell.  That was part of her costume and my explanation of it, at least.  And the introduction of sexual undertones — lesbian sex.  Hrm…the blonde haired friend of Nell was smiling while the one girl was having an epileptic fit…or was possessed by the demon.  Not trust her.  The actress playing Nell is very good at portraying the innocent, scared, big-eyed reactions she needs.

Chris: Nell downplays her innocence. That’s probably important.

CarrieLynn: She’s like any teenage girl — trying to fit in.  Interesting — trying to get close to the others by discussing the pregnancy, then joking and being uncertain about it.

CarrieLynn: The demon and “I want to be inside you.” The sexual undertones of possession — which are also kinda overtones, when we consider “possession” as the word used to traditionally describe how husbands can possess their wives.  Also referenced in how the ghost dad said the demon needs to seduce her to be free.

Chris: Definitely need to look at the significance of the father, because he keeps popping up.

CarrieLynn: First time she asserts herself, speaking back against the dog that startled her, and the dog ran off scared.  Ten-to-one the boyfriend uses her.

CarrieLynn: Sex noises in the hotel — first time she hears them it scares her, but the second time she is drawn to it.

Chris: And then the thing spreading out from the wall…it’s like her desire for sex is some sort of corruption spreading out from her.

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CarrieLynn: Also the demon probably getting stronger inside of her, learning to better seduce her, which makes her start to become more of a sexual creature.  Almost like the corruption started because of the boy taking a liking to her.

Chris: Yeah, things really don’t start to get weird until she asserts her sexual independence.

CarrieLynn: And her desire — to be like other girls — to be modern — to desire someone.  You have the demon manipulating people psychologically, playing with their innermost thoughts and desires.

Chris: “If he seduces you, all is lost.” That’s pretty blatant.  And then the dad threatening her with the gun (PHALLIC SYMBOL), and she is saved by the roommate.

CarrieLynn: Okay, so a lot just happened — hard to know what is real and what is imagined.

Chris: Who then says, “No one can have you but him.” And then she asserts herself again.  But even if it’s imagined or part of some fantasy realm, it still conforms to the idea of the film as an exploration of female sexuality and it’s relationship to the patriarchy.  Er, well, more it’s place in the patriarchy, not relationship.  She also flinches from the touch of the man who runs the foster home.

CarrieLynn: She does seem to assert herself more in this movie than the last one, as she tries to convince the non-believers of the horrors coming. Her voice is to speak truth but she is powerless in not being heard. Rather Cassandra of her.  What is the relationship with the last girl archetype from slasher films? The one who does not have sex lives, right?  So if Nell gives in to the seduction, then she is having sex, which makes her not a final girl.

Chris: Definitely a Lacanian conception of power in these films in terms of these women having their voices suppressed, and that when they do actually take charge of language, they do so through the power of evil.  So could this then be argued that these films are saying that female sexuality is a threat to the patriarchy?

CarrieLynn: Theories to apply to exorcism films: Lacanian psychoanalysis, Freudian psychoanalysis, feminist theory, queer theory.

Chris: Also, it’s interesting that it is usually male demons who are helping these girls find their voices.

CarrieLynn: Now that’s meta — bringing in the found footage from the first movie, via YouTube.  So someone actually found the footage after all.

Chris: Also, this film brings in the idea of the gaze, by having her friends watch footage from the first film.

CarrieLynn: Another girl referred to the blonde haired girl as Nell’s “girlfriend.”   The angrier Nell becomes, the more she asserts herself.

Chris: Which again, seems to point to the fact that these films are positioning female independence in a negative light in some ways.

CarrieLynn: All of this happened before Nell put her cross necklace back on, and before going back to the Church and to God. “What good comes from resistance when all you have to do is let him into your heart?” But even in the Church the demon finds her. A symbol of the patriarchy, corrupting her, housing evil.

Chris: There’s also the fact that these girls and young women need to be saved by men who are representatives of the church, which is an institution of the patriarchy.

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CarrieLynn: Interesting how she sees it coming — that is rarely discussed in other possession films; we rarely get the woman’s perspective of being possessed. And first time she swears a man dies. The ultimate assertion…the ultimate corruption of femininity is to swear.  A woman comes to help her, says she has been watching over her since the hospital. Again, sisterhood — exemplified further by fact it is an African-American woman. A female savior, similar to The Conjuring?

Chris: Doing the memory thing to uncover the day she “first felt his touch.” Almost like trying to uncover a repressed memory of rape or something.

CarrieLynn: Link with Possession, the Jewish possession movie, with all the flies. Which is interesting, because this one brings in voodoo — so interesting the different religions brought into these films to explain/exorcise demons.

CarrieLynn: Well, I didn’t see that coming with the boyfriend.

Chris: Her fractured image in the mirror has to have some sort of significance.

CarrieLynn: Fractured mirror — perhaps indicating identity fracturing, changing.

CarrieLynn: What is interesting is how often in these exorcism movies the priest is essentially the main character, the protagonist seeking to save the girl and kill the demon. The possessed girl is secondary, the monster, the damsel in distress, the antagonist. The Last Exorcism was that way. This one is not — here she has far more agency — she is the protagonist — she is the hero seeking to kill the demon.

CarrieLynn: Ah, but here comes the old white dude to the rescue.  A piece of Abalam is still inside her, and they need to break it — no matter what women do, patriarchy is always inside of them

Chris: Also, the one guy says, “We’re going to take it out of you.” Allusion to abortion, perhaps?

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CarrieLynn: Is she right not to totally trust these people, especially when they strap her down?  “Oh the Miraculous Mother” — start of exorcism is to call upon a goddess for protection.

Chris: The demon came straight from an Eyes Wide Shut party!  Also, it’s like they’re playing a round of “ZIP ZAP ZOP!”

CarrieLynn: Heh, and the demon is herself — “you are a tiger raised by lambs” — the fractured identity — the wish to be more than what is allowed by those who have raised you — by the patriarchy.  Yet also her ghost Dad saying all he wanted is for her to see how beautiful she is and trying to keep her alive when they betray her.  Abalom seducing her by saying he is the only one who is good for her, the only one who loves her. Demon lover!  Take the demon’s hand and embrace who she is.

Chris: It’s like “A Touch of Satan!”

CarrieLynn: So here she chooses to accept a way of being that totally counters what the powers that be would want her to choose.  And then she licks the blonde haired girl’s face. “I know who I am now. And I know who I was meant to be.” Feels like shades of Carrie.  Just destroying everything.

Chris: She’s also destroying all these people who represent the patriarchy: medical men, authority, religious figures.

CarrieLynn: Got the red boots! Feet in hell! I’m telling ya.  She also destroys the sisterhood.

CarrieLynn: And her smiling into the rear view mirror directly at the camera as the last shot.  Female gaze and use of mirrors in the movie.

Chris: Yeah, earlier in the film, she looks in the mirror and it’s a fractured reflection, but at the end, it’s not. Does this then imply that she’s figured out who she is and embraced it?

CarrieLynn: And before the fractured thing, when she puts on the cross, she is at a mirror and looks down. While looking down the mirror vibrates.  But at the end there, when she knows herself, her gaze is at us through that rear view mirror.  Like challenging us to say that she is wrong to have accepted the demon and thus the power.

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