The Last Exorcism was a ramshackle old thing, with some very clear charms: it had more conceptual integrity than a lot of found-footage horror, and while it was hardly a powerhouse of complex themes, it was a least trying to raise questions rather than just rely on jump cuts and musical stings to keep the audience distracted for an hour and a half. Two and half years on, that's enough to make it feel like something of an elder statesman in the world of contemporary horror filmmaking. Although that has as much to do with just how desperate a state contemporary horror filmmaking currently occupies, as demonstrated by The Last Exorcism, Part II, a movie so impoverished in every regard that it cannot dare to dream of being something so impressive and respectable as "ramshackle".

All jokes about the title aside - they've all been made by now, anyway - the question of how to form a sequel to a story with "Last" right there in the name is one of many that writers Damien Chazelle and Ed Gass-Donnelly (the latter of whom also directs) are ill-equipped to answer. Mechanically, they manage it by bringing back pretty much the only person who wasn't left dead at the end of the first movie, waifish teen girl Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), possessed at that time by ancient demon Abalam. At some point, our exorcism movie writers will need to admit to their secret selves that names which connoted evil in Semitic languages a millennium or two ago sound in contemporary English more like characters apt to walk down Sesame Street or pass the time of day with Barney the purple dinosaur.

The film manages to fuck up almost immediately, with a scene in which Nell wrecks a suburban Louisiana couple's home before being discovered crouched, ferally, in their kitchen, with glassy yellow eyes that immediately read to anybody apt to attend this sort of movie as "this is a crazy demon chick". So where do we next find her? Obviously, in the care of a halfway house designed to help homeless teenage girls get their lives back together, and for approximately the next 75 minutes of the 88-minute feature, there is not the slightest indication that something might possibly be queer about Nell. About the world around her, full as it is with shadowy figures staring at her from the corners, absolutely; but not about Nell herself.

Anyway, then, for the great majority of its running time, The Last Exorcism, Part II decides, for want of a better option, to tell the story of a fragile woman's return to society, as thwarted by her paranoia that the world she left behind is sneaking up on her constantly. This is done clumsily at best, because even as the film has set itself to telling this story of all stories, it's also well aware that with the word "exorcism" being brought into play, it also has to be a horror picture, though the only exorcism we see (rather unconventionally, a voodoo ceremony rather than a Christian one) comes in late and by no means drives the narrative to any particular degree the way we expect of possession films. Thus it is, anyway, that Nell hears noises and has nightmares and backs up into people glaring at her through their creepy masks, and the style of a fairly trashy chain of jump scares is layered atop the psychodrama, to the detriment of both the psychology and the horror.

In terms of being a rather loosely-attached sequel, and to not justifying its name in terms of its own plot, and in terms of being torn between horror and something very different than horror indeed, the closest comparison I can think to make is with 1944's The Curse of the Cat People, with one crucial difference: that movie, on its own terms, is actually very good. And The Last Exorcism, Part II, on its own terms, is actually very bad. Partially because it never manages to resolve the central tension between two very different genres, failing to marry them in any real way; partially because outside of Bell, who fully commits to the movie that everybody else should have been making all along (a psychological picture that reveals itself as a horror movie only as it moves on, after the Polanski model), the cast is uniformly miserable, with special dishonors going to Julia Garner as the obviously - and I do emphatically mean obviously - untrustworthy best friend Nell makes in the halfway house, though exactly what she's untrustworthy about and what she knows at any given moment is something that the filmmakers haven't thought through all the way.

And that, of course, is the bulk of what's wrong the movie: it is utterly misconceived. This holds true at the most basic level of telling a sequel story: it relies far too much on our specific knowledge of the first movie to stand alone, but conveniently ignores whatever it can manage to (the death of the first movie's central pastor-exorcist, a figure apparently something at the level of a minor celebrity in his field, is mentioned only in the most oblique way). Nor does Nell's story follow in any strictly logical way; it's almost like they decision was made to produce a sequel and it was belatedly discovered that there was no sane way to do that given where the original left off, so the last living character even vaguely important or sympathetic enough to function as a protagonist, was retconned to the point that a story could be built around her that has absolutely nothing to do with the mood or style or themes of the first movie (which crops up in a YouTube video, the kind of plot point that could have broken a far more airtight sequel than this one). Luckily, we know that filmmakers do not tell stories for such craven reasons, right?

The point being, The Last Exorcism, Part II is a damn mess of a narrative, and it is a truly wretched example of genre filmmaking, with Gass-Donnelly leaning hard on the cheapest possible effects (if there was no musical score here, there would be absolutely no scary atmosphere whatsoever) to get very, very little effect; and the location shooting in New Orleans demonstrating more that it is, in fact, possible to make one of the most distinctive cities in the United States look like Toronto. Bell manages, in despite of everything, to make a character worth paying attention to for the short length of the movie, but everything else about it is absolutely nonsensical, pointless, and utterly without merit.

3/10