At what point do you think the producers of 2010's surprise hit "The Last Exorcism" regretted putting the word "Last" in their title? Was it after the first wave of positive reviews rolled in? Could it have been right around the time the low-budget indie horror film turned a sizable profit, earning $67 million in global ticket sales and all but guaranteeing a sequel?
Not to worry. True horror fans know that "Last" -- and similar adjectives -- hold no weight in this sequel-happy genre. That's why there were six additional Jason movies after 1984's "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter," and Freddy Krueger didn't actually die in the 1991 thriller "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare." So long as audiences support horror franchises at the box office, studios happily will crank out substandard follow-up films that have no real interest beyond squeezing dollars from a marketable brand.
The promise of a quick cash grab is the only excuse that justifies "The Last Exorcism Part II," an ineffective excursion that maintains a few direct ties back to the original film but never moves the story forward. Dark components that genuinely disturbed us in the first film -- a skeptical Southern preacher (played by Patrick Fabian) getting his faith shaken to the core; the hand-held camera techniques of a true-crime docudrama; a legitimate fear of the occult -- are sacrificed for generic scares and flavorless plot twists.
For continuity's sake, "Part II" picks up in the Louisiana swamp where Nell (Ashley Bell) has given birth to the demonic love child of a seedy pastor. Fabian's character has been killed (the actor is sorely missed in this humorless sequel), and the shell-shocked Nell hardly remembers anything we witnessed in the first movie. Since she essentially has been orphaned by the events of the first film, Nell is turned over to a New Orleans foster home for wayward women, where her possession continues and strange occurrences start plaguing the home's emotionally damaged residents.
And by "strange," I mean "boring." Nell admits to a sympathetic counselor (Muse Watson) that she still feels the evil presence of the demon Abalam, but all the unseen threat does is make dirty phone calls in the dead of night and, occasionally, send black flies to buzz around Nell's bedroom. Abalam's more annoying than terrifying in this sequel, following Nell around the French Quarter while wearing a Mardi Gras mask and prompting dogs to bark in a cheap effort to get audience members to jump in their chairs.
Bell was a welcome find in the original "Last Exorcism," and she continues to try interesting things with her unusual character. The actress projects a farm-girl innocence when playing Nell, turning the naive heroine into a blank slate that's ripe for satanic corruption. And "Part II," like so many horror sequels, concerns itself with Nell's sexual awakening, which encourages the flexible Bell to writhe and squirm like a serpent on a Twister mat. But the PG-13 rating pushes all racy, gory material far off screen, instantly deflating any potential heat or tension the sequel threatened to generate.
Without spoiling anything, I will say that "The Last Exorcism Part II" ends on an open note that teases a legitimately engaging setup for a potential third movie. But really, the producers of this series should quit while they're behind. One sequel was unnecessary. A second sequel would be criminal. Besides, what could they possibly call it? "The Last Exorcism: Seriously. We Mean It This Time. Trust Us?"
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"The Last Exorcism Part II"
PG-13. Contains horror violence, terror and brief language. 88 minutes.