This week, the next chapter in The Last Exorcism series, aptly titled The Last Exorcism Part II, hits the screen this Friday (March 1st) and ShockTillYouDrop.com caught up with producer Eli Roth to preview the film for us. We grilled him on that title (wasn’t the last film the “last” exorcism?) and got him to comment on the sequel’s decision to eschew the “found footage” format, the strength of Ashley Bell and more.
Continuing where the first film left off, Part II finds teenage Nell Sweetzer (Bell) is found dirty and terrified in the woods having just escaped a demon ritual in which a cult helped her give birth to a demon baby. She is moved into Davreaux – a girls’ halfway house in New Orleans, where she will try to put her life back together with the help of the therapist, Frank Merle. She even begins to date a boy named Chris and starts a job at a local hotel. But something doesn’t feel right to Nell. She is being sought after by the demon who possessed her in the first film.
Shock Till You Drop: Before we start, do you want to comment on the title and the fact that this is a sequel to a film called The “Last” Exorcism?
Eli Roth: Of course. The original title of the first film was Cotton. After Lionsgate bought the movie, we realized that the title, Cotton, required too much education of what the movie was about, whereas The Last Exorcism you got right away what kind of movie you were seeing. When we titled it that we obviously were not thinking about a sequel. But part of the fun of doing a movie that’s a half a million dollars is that you can do it open-ended. We wanted that ending, like The Thing, to leave you debating what happened. The first movie is about: Is she possessed or is she suffering some kind of breakdown from abuse? And now that we’ve answered that question, we can embrace that she was possessed. The movie was a huge hit, so everybody started asking about a sequel. The first thing we said was, “We can’t, we wouldn’t know what to call it!” It sounds ridiculous. But then we were like, “Wait a minute, they’re up to Final Destination 5…” My title was actually The Devil Inside, that’s what I wanted to call it. The Devil Inside: The Last Exorcism II. Then, of course, The Devil Inside came out. Ed Gass-Donnelly called it The Beginning of the End. When CBS bought it, we knew collectively that we’d get a lot of jokes about The Last Exorcism Part II, but regardless of that title, we’re proud of the movie and that’s what counts.
Shock: Is Patrick Fabian going to turn up as Cotton? I’m curious as to how this sequel will address the first film’s ending…
Roth: We liked the docu format of the first film. And, we don’t know what happened to everyone at the end. Were they all killed? We’re not sure. For this, we had to look at: Where is Cotton now? But, what really freed us up is we couldn’t make another documentary about what happened to Cotton Marcus. What if – when you abandon the format of found footage and shoot a straight narrative – the first film exists in the world of the sequel as a viral video? So, people had seen it. Nell emerges with no memory of what happened. She emerges from the woods, her family is dead and she has no memory. Everybody else has seen this video that’s popped up online. She’s in a home for troubled girls and they try to help reintegrate her back into society, but slowly these creepy things start happening. We loved the idea of – instead of something coming back and possessing her and taking over – what if this thing was really in love with her and this thing was trying to get a piece of her to love it. So, it’s destroying the world around her to make that happen. We were trying to create a showcase for Ashley Bell. She’s such a superb talent. That first film was so much about Patrick, we really wanted to make this one about Ashley. I don’t want to give too much away though…
Shock: How has Ashley matured from one film to the next?
Roth: Well, she’s terrific and it’s great seeing her act in another format. In the docu style, she’s so natural. Ed Gass-Donnelly has a real elegant style to his work and he really loves Roman Polanski and Rosemary’s Baby, so it was fun to watch Ashley play on a film canvas and act in much more subtle ways. She can do no wrong in my book. What she did in the first film was just a warm up for the second one.
Shock: And what locked Ed in as the man to direct this project?
Roth: We wanted someone who was really going to be excited about the material. After The Last Exorcism, Daniel Stamm was getting all sorts of offers and we started to look for other directors because it looked like he was going to be busy with another film when we needed to shoot this one. So, we said, let’s find someone who loves the story, the material and can bring some new ideas to the table. Daniel brought many ideas to the film. We watched lots of film and it took a while interviewing people and we loved Small Town Murder Songs. Ed was young and hungry, but his film was creepy, elegant and he comes from a theater background. He’s very performance-driven. We wanted a movie that would have that elegance and intelligence, but wouldn’t be pretentious and would be a fun night at the movies.
Shock: We’re seeing a few films now not necessarily embracing “found footage” but incorporating it back into traditionally-told narratives. Do you see that as the next organic step for horror?
Roth: Yeah, I think it’s clear Paranormal Activity showed that whatever the aesthetic is, you can make it super lo-fi and it makes it even scarier when you’re a smart director. If the pay-off is legit and scary, it’s totally acceptable. I remember, as a kid, watching Evil Dead and not understanding the difference between 16mm and 35mm and just knowing that it looked different than a movie like Stripes. It just looked real. Now, everybody is a filmmaker with their iPhone. Kids shooting everything on their iPhone or iPad has made it acceptable for people to see movies in that format. The culture has evolved to a point where everybody is shooting that way and I think that if you can crack it and tell a really scary story, it works great. You just have to decide which format best suits the story you want to tell.