There is an extendable franchise in “The Last Exorcism”, a sleeper horror movie from 2010, but this sequel is not the right first step. The idea that drove the first one concerned a rural preacher (Patrick Fabian) who performed ‘exorcisms’ on country folk who thought they were possessed. He exposed the fakers and the con artists, and that character could’ve been a great lead to follow throughout the series. That would be quite novel compared to most of these types of lame films that are mere rip-offs of the classic horror tale “The Exorcist” with its heavy doses of Catholic guilt and Biblical window-dressing. (I reviewed one of the worst in the bunch last year: http://exm.nr/Qipb9t). But unfortunately, the preacher is now dead after a legitimate exorcism claimed him, so now we’re left with his possessed foil from the first. That’s one helluva bad idea.
The character of Nell, the virgin farm girl possessed by a demon in the first, made for an interesting antagonist in that one, but front and center here, she makes for a terrible protagonist. In the previous film’s end, she was mating with the demon Abalam in a ritual surrounded by dozens of devil worshipers. So how did she escape? Why did she survive? Isn’t she possessed with the demon seed already? Thus, the character is not exactly easy to relate to. Ideally, an audience stand-in in horror should be someone on the outside looking in, just as mom Ellen Burstyn and priest Jason Miller were in “The Exorcist”.
But we’re stuck with Nell, as those are no worthy foils placed around her. No priests or preachers or detectives investigating what happened. It’s almost like the first movie didn’t really happen. In fact, it appears that the filmmakers don’t want to rely too much on the equity of that vastly superior first film. The first one was shot documentary-style, whereas this one is filmed in a traditional narrative style. The rural cult is forgotten. And no one even alludes to the ‘found footage’ that the preacher was recording to prove the hoaxes. And in order to make Nell more sympathetic here, the filmmakers conveniently have her suffer from memory loss. She did all these horrible things in a previous life, but her forgetfulness now makes her more sympathetic? It’s a horror film that only Jodi Arias could love!
Director Ed Gass-Donnelly knows how to shoot a scene to build maximum tension but he also relies too often on silly spook house tricks like fake-outs and jump cuts to make us lurch. The script he co-authored with Damien Chazelle conjures some good chills and thrills, but it ignores all that’s gone on before to the point of blasphemy. A sequel should owe more to its source material, continuity character and premise than it does here.
I liked the location shooting in New Orleans, particularly when Nell walks around New Orleans during Mardi Gras and encounters creepy characters that could be Satan’s minions or just excessively creepy tourists. But there are too many other scenes and characters that go nowhere. A sexy housemate (Julie Garner), introduced in the first 10 minutes, seems like she's going to be a major character, but then soon is merely a peripheral one. And the kindly house manager (Muse Watson) seems to be a good guy who'll play a large part in the narrative, but he quickly disappears for most of the story.
Comely actress Ashley Bell gives it her all as Nell but the script never lets her get a real handle on a character. Yes, she’s a disturbed young woman but not a particularly likable one, and her psychosis keeps those in the audience at arms’ length despite Bell’s best efforts. The fact is, Nell shouldn’t be the franchise, and this sequel suffers because of that wrong decision. Exorcism is the franchise, not one character, just as “Paranormal Activity” shouldn’t be about those infuriating sisters. (My loathing of that franchise is written about here: http://exm.nr/PMpqZW).
At the end, when the exorcism goes awry, because it has to in order to ensure more sequels, Nell drives off fully possessed, lighting the street up with fire. With the devil being the central character for future sequels, what chance does any preacher or do-gooder stand against such power? They’ll be like lambs led to the slaughter, sacrificed on the altar of lazy sequels and botched storytelling opportunities.