I love a good scary movie. They tend to be few and far between, but I was genuinely hopeful about this sequel to The Last Exorcism, a surprisingly effective horror film. In retrospect, I suppose that film should have been called The Next to Last Exorcism. It is my unhappy duty to report that The Last Exorcism Part II does not live up to the promise of its predecessor.
The Last Exorcism II picks up right where the first film left off, with young Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) wandering out of the woods with no memory of her horrific ordeal of the first film. Nell finds herself at a halfway house for teenage girls in New Orleans. It becomes obvious almost immediately that the demonic presence from Part 1 is not done with Nell, and she finally enlists the help of a medium (Tarra Riggs) and a voodoo priest (David Jensen) to expel the demon.
The problems with the movie begin at the outset, with Nell breaking into the house of an unsuspecting young couple. Introducing characters and putting them in peril without building empathy first never works; we need to care about them if they're going to be in danger. It's a classic mistake (see Halloween 2, or rather, don't) and not a good way to start. There are also innumerable plot holes, starting with Nell being sent to the halfway house. There are vague references to a fire and a cult, but there seems to be absolutely no police involvement, and no mention of the fact that at least four people were murdered. Nell seems to remember nothing, and yet the director of the girls' home (Muse Watson) seems to know an awful lot about her (something that doesn't get paid off later, so don't ask). The powers of the demon seem to change from scene to scene to adapt to whatever the plot requires. As bad as the Paranormal Activity series has gotten, at least it seems to follow the laws of the universe it inhabits.
The sequel abandons the found footage aspect of the first film for a more conventional narrative. This could have been effective, but the pacing of the film is glacial, peppered by occasional "gotcha" moments that seemed tired thirty years ago in the Friday the 13th series. At least those movies made up for the lack of imagination with copious amounts of gore, but the PG-13 rating makes the scares in The Last Exorcism II rather toothless. What should have been the most shocking moment of the film is so inept in its execution that I almost laughed.
Ashley Bell is not a bad actress, and her character is given an arc that makes her sympathetic to the audience. The New Orleans locale could have been mined for some truly creepy atmosphere, but the movie plays like a Bourbon Street travelogue by never venturing outside the most touristy spots. The final scene could have been exciting, but cheap special effects betray the limited budget, and what should have wowed me had me shrugging my shoulders. This story could have made a decent horror film, but any potential was squandered by bad writing and pedestrian directing. It's a real shame, considering that it takes a lot of hard work to make a movie, even a bad one. Make no mistake, The Last Exorcism Part II is very bad.