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Instantly rendering the title of its first installment moot, The Last Exorcism Part II proves yet again that you can’t keep a good demon down. Yes, Abalam is back to torture Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), the innocent, deeply religious young woman who went through both spiritual and physical contortions in the 2010 breakout hit.
After a brief recap featuring scenes from the original film, Nell — who somehow survived its fiery climax — is seen terrorizing a young couple in their home, after which she is promptly whisked off to a New Orleans halfway house for troubled girls. There, she’s introduced to such joys as hard-rock music on an iPod, the exotic spectacle of Mardi Gras and a burgeoning attraction to a nice young man who returns her interest.
But it isn’t long before creepy things begin happening, including ominous visits from her father’s ghost, warning her that she’s in danger; her newfound friends suddenly being possessed by a vengeful spirit; and an unsettling encounter with a stranger in a church that’s followed by an attack by suicidal birds. (That last scene, incidentally, represents the second such episode in a horror film in a week, following quickly on the heels of Dark Skies.)
Forgoing the faux found-footage technique that the original employed, this sequel takes a more classical narrative approach. Unfortunately, while director/co-writer Ed Gass-Donnelly displays an admirable restraint in his general eschewing of gratuitous gore, quick editing and flashy visuals, the results have a generally soporific feel. Although there are several moments that are undeniably creepy, such as Nell’s encounter with a motionless mime or her experiencing an episode of airborne solo sexual ecstasy, the general tedium is only alleviated by the obligatory shock scares for which the sound mixer has dutifully cranked up the volume to 11.
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It all culminates in — what else? — another exorcism, this time of the voodoo variety. But the scene barely registers, and the explosive finale featuring unimpressive CGI fire effects is a further letdown.
Reprising her role, Bell again is the film’s chief asset, delivering a memorable, unsettling performance that easily can be compared to Sissy Spacek’s Carrie. Vividly conveying her character’s complex emotions with a minimum of histrionics, she actually comes across as a real person, unlike so many glam horror film heroines who look like they’ve just stepped out of a photo shoot. Although the actress doesn’t perform nearly as many of the memorable physical contortions as she did in the first film, she remains a vital presence throughout and clearly is headed for bigger and better things.
Of course, before that she might be headed to a third installment of this series, the seeds of which are planted in an open-ended climax demonstrating that this edition should have probably been titled The Penultimate Exorcism.
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