The Lord may be my shepherd, but I want the devil to be my chiropractor. Although he’s not exactly known for his healing touch, the devil – if we are to believe the movies – can manipulate a body’s spine in ways that no mortal bone-cracker has ever managed. The Last Exorcism: Part II gives the devil plenty of space to show off this handiwork, but apart from making young women writhe in bed and hellishly contort their bodies, the devil appears to have little else on his docket.
As in the first (and obviously misnomered) Last Exorcism, the devil’s name is Abalam and he’s still after poor Nell (Bell), who somehow escaped the fiery, backwoods showdown that concluded the original film. Emerging intact on the streets of New Orleans, Nell is sent to live in a group home for traumatized girls, and, thanks to the first film’s use of documentary footage as an intrinsic plot element, we are provided a brief recap of the events that transpired therein. Encouraged by the home’s resident administrator to accept that she has the power to choose her destiny, the reticent Nell flourishes and finds satisfaction in her job as a member of a motel housekeeping crew. A friendship that develops with a fellow worker (Clark) sparks her dormant libido, but Abalam is not ready to release Nell from his lustful clutch. He makes his presence known sometimes through the static on the radio, flocks of suicidal birds dive-bombing a church’s stained-glass windows (the second time I’ve seen this trope in a movie this week), and eerie touches that capitalize on New Orleans’ distinctive iconography. Ultimately, Nell takes refuge with a voodoo queen (Riggs) and her fellow members of the Order of the Right Hand, but even their conjurings prove little match for Abalam. It seems that little Nell, in fact, does not have agency over her destiny.
Bell, who returns from the first film, has an expressive face that easily ranges from angelic to devilish, even though she seems a little long in the tooth to play such a backwoods innocent. (Incidentally, she is cast as the lead in Bryan Poyser’s SXSW film The Bounceback, which premieres here this week.) The film, however, is short on genuine scares and ingenuity. So many sequences are structured to build to a little jolt, that the pattern becomes predictable and tired. Especially since the first film set a high standard for originality, this sequel, which is helmed by a different creative team, disappoints.