Invoking faith and gender-based traumas only to reduce them to a redundant series of decibel-heavy scares, The Last Exorcism Part II is a prime example of a bad thing done well. Anything like sleight of hand has been steamrolled out in favor of condescendingly telegraphed plot points and a script that eschews reflection on difficult material, instead trading in shallow smugness and ultimately unearned catharsis. Perhaps most off-putting is the film’s banal attempts at disturbing imagery; given both the abundance of thematically deprived lip service to Christianity’s thorny relationship with sexuality and a main character who’s 17 years old, the effect is noxious, bordering on pornographic.
Picking up where The Last Exorcism left off, the sequel abandons that film’s found-footage format for a visually straightforward approach, the modest attempts at subtlety frequently obliterated by the surrounding audio bombast. The preceding film exists in this one’s universe as a viral video; Nell (Ashley Bell, who looks as though she’s been instructed to perform as if on Thorazine), having survived the supposed last exorcism, tries to put her life back together while the demon Abalam quietly readies his attempts to seduce her once again, tempting her with visions and pleasures so she may fulfill her intended role as the vessel for hell on Earth.
Brendan Steacy’s wintery cinematography includes a number of charged compositions that exude menace (others prove accidentally hilarious as the horror tropes begin dropping with all the imagination of a bag of hammers), but any sense of accruing dread is flushed away courtesy director/editor Ed Gass-Donnelly’s tone-deaf use of his performers and wanting sense of pacing or rhythm. Scenes of solemn importance drag on to the point of self-parody in an attempt at establishing mood, while dialogue reeks of connect-the-dots spoonfeeding. Incidental allusions to The Last Temptation of Christ and The Changeling only further underscore the void within which the film’s few ideas rattle around like loose coins. The obviously wasted potential on display—epitomized by the chilling and scantly revisited image of Nell’s halfway house, the courtyard populated by eerie, bare-branched bushes reaching upward like strands of DNA—is unforgivable. If only because the filmmakers ease off the accelerator for a few moments, an early, dreamy sequence set during a parade effortlessly evokes the sense of the supernatural as a daily menace, one the rest of the film fails to produce despite putting on so shameless a sideshow.