“The Last Exorcism Part II” has blundered what could’ve been a well respected horror franchise. It makes a lame pass at exploring its spiritual conflicts (part of what made its predecessor successful), its psychological depth is weak and its scares — were it only possible to call them run-of-the-mill horror fare. No, director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s (“Small Town Murder Songs”) latest bends its back to be forgettable.

The Last Exorcism Part II

C-
At Quality 16 and Rave

CBS Films


The possessed Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell, “Chasing Shakespeare”), who we last saw breaking her own fingers and giving birth to a demon, has taken residence at an all-girls home for people like her escaping the demons of their past. Unfortunately, her demon, Abalam, refuses to let go. Soon enough, the stakes are raised, a massive conspiracy is unleashed and Nell realizes she might not be able to outrun her past.

It had all the parts, all the plot mechanics to set in motion a story of seduction versus taking, temptation and holiness — an admirable effort. Dropping the first’s found-footage format, “Part II” clearly intends to be a different movie. Though this change is warranted — and doubtlessly a welcome sight for many — it deprives the formula of the clever turns that gave its predecessor a dash of verisimilitude. And still, convention is not its problem.

We go into this film expecting that we’re about to tread a world of half-open doors and building, uncontrollable violence. What we get is a series of mostly unconnected scares, full of tense, wiry strings, traipsing from start to finish. Gass-Donnelly not only unwisely leans on convention, he fails convention.

And for all the noise it makes, only a single, tiny hair is ever raised: Nell has a creepy phone conversation — that ends with a line of mind-numbing overstatement, a horrible afterthought latched onto the end of what could’ve been a decent sequence.

Such describes the majority of relative newcomer Damien Chazelle’s script. It lacks rhythm and answers to unfinished plotlines. It doesn’t build tension; it deflates it, bores us and seemingly makes every effort possible to destroy the believability of all its characters and their relationships. Take Bell’s roommate, Gwen (Julia Garner, “The Perks of the Being a Wallflower”). She has a strange breed of bullying, mugging a smile that quivers between sadistic intent and lunacy. Her presence is enough to invite curiosity, but her place in the story is unclear and ultimately, unnecessary.

Thankfully, Bell offers a bit more charm than the usual stiff-lipped robot. Still, you can’t help but feel something phony is at work when she delivers Chazelle’s whiny lines. It’s a shame considering how remarkable Bell inhabited that doe-eyed, insular girl in “The Last Exorcism.” She was curious, naïve and optimistic. Here, her efforts to join larger society and the subsequent mental turmoil couldn’t convince a child. Her spiritual crisis is settled far too easily.

“The Last Exorcism Part II” originates from solid material that the poor direction all but squanders. Questions of femininity, spirituality, real and unreal are buried underneath the simple scares to which Gass-Donnelly relegates the film. Producer Eli Roth has made a reputation for putting out horror flicks that revitalize the genre. But what we have here is another unwanted, unneeded sequel, and an underwhelming feature showcasing unrealized ambition, potential wasted.

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