New Orleans is a really spooky place. It’s a strange mix of buttoned up Christianity, hidden superstitions and nighttime sin. It has its own pace, its own bilingual history and its own demons. In many ways, it’s the perfect setting for a horror movie interested in creepy and off-putting visuals and/ or backstories involving slavery, vampires and old mansions that have fallen into disrepair.
At times, The Last Exorcism really seems to understand the potential in its location. It cuts to creepers in Mardi Gras masks and disturbing painted street performers. It even throws in some voodoo-like rituals, but none of it is enough to save a flat exorcism story arc that few of us asked for and even fewer will enjoy.
Even casual horror fans have probably seen at least one young woman’s body twisted, contorted and raised into the air. If not, they’ve at least seen one member of a weird cult or religious organization get called out of the bullpen to try his home spun remedies on a protagonist slowly losing his or her mind. That’s why exorcism movies have to be about the characters now, as as characters go, The Last Exorcism is short on good ones.
After the de-possession story of the first The Last Exorcism, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is discovered in the woods and brought to live in a group home for troubled young girls. After repeatedly being told the demon who possessed her, Abalam, isn’t real, she starts to make a real life for herself. There's a potential boyfriend (Spencer Treat Clark) to awkwardly go to the zoo with, a gaggle of girlfriends to talk about it with, and a job as a maid in a local hotel, but alas, we all know that bliss can’t last in an exorcism movie. Abalam reappears in various forms to sometimes torture her, sometimes woo her and consistently confuse the hell out of any viewers with common sense.
There’s a difference between a genre movie not answering every possible question a viewer might have and a horror movie straight up not making sense, and The Last Exorcism 2 is on the wrong side of that unforgiving line. We’re told Abalam is powerless without Nell; yet, he’s apparently capable of inhabiting people’s bodies and committing a boatload of felonies with only a marginal bit of effort. Sometimes we’re given evidence to believe certain characters and certain behaviors are figments of people’s imaginations, and sometimes we’re given evidence to believe certain characters and certain behaviors are actually happening. It’s a big jumbled, needlessly complicated mess.
The Last Exorcism worked because it made clever use of a skeptic, got a great performance from its lead actress and offered just enough genuine scares. The Last Exorcism 2 gets that same great performance from Bell, but beyond that, it doesn’t offer much more than confusion and the occasional New Orleans shoutout. Unlike its predecessor, this one isn’t destined for good word of mouth, and if we’re in luck, it won’t be destined for another sequel either.