Picking up where 2010’s The Last Exorcism left off, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), once the guileless daughter of a kindly farmer, has been reduced to a feral wisp of a woman curled up on the counter of a terrified couple who quickly call the proper authorities. Upon examination, she is determined to be physically healthy, but she’s unwilling or unable to talk. However, the traumatized Nell is roused from catatonia after a nurse snips off a lock of her hair to complete a gris-gris bag (interestingly, voodoo stands in for Catholicism this time around). She remembers little more than her own name and her parents’ deaths at the hands of a demon called Abalam, and is sent to live at a halfway house of sorts (the details are vague) for troubled young women in New Orleans.
Caricatures abound inside of Deborah House: the rocker chick, the sassy street kid, the kindly caretaker, etc. Clearly, The Last Exorcism Part II is about Nell’s ongoing supernatural afflictions, but even taking into account the film’s intentions, the supporting cast do little more than flit around her like an annoying fly that’s been following her since her last exorcism (pun intended). However, the movie gets major points for abandoning the shaky cam of days gone by for solid production values, most notably the inviting yet creepy Deborah House. For each sun-soaked room there’s a creaky step; for each comfy couch is a door that may have opened on its own volition. It’s perfect for fake-outs and some of them are quite clever, particularly Nell’s realization that the screaming she hears is from her own exorcism, which has gone viral on YouTube.
Despite the numerous gotcha moments and false scares, there’s a tiny bit of hope implied for Nell. For a while, the film comes across as a low-key Girl, Interrupted. The hospital staff believe she was the victim of a sadistic cult ritual, and Nell is all too happy to accept the alternate explanation. “Dear Abalam,” she writes, “I have decided that I do not think you are real.” It’s too bad this isn’t a psychological thriller, because there’s something interesting about an individual who clings to mental illness as being preferable to a reality of malevolent supernatural phenomena.
Naturally, Nell’s battle with possession is far from over. Director Ed Gass-Donnelly does the film and the genre a favor by using a voodoo ceremony in lieu of a traditional Catholic exorcism, implying it’s the faith and not the religion that counts. The twist ending is bound to divide those who like the middle ground between dark and total camp and those who love an outrageous twist. Overall, though, The Last Exorcism Part II is worth a look if you’re interested in a mildly spooky experience between Halloweens. leave a comment --Tracie Cooper