After sitting out the prequel, Annabelle, ghost-busting due Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren in James Wan’s sequel to The Conjuring. Wan wisely shifts the action to the UK and taps into the real-life drama of the Enfield Poltergeist to add some frissions if not credibility to the action. The dingy atmosphere of 1970’s Britain is well caught at times, with false teeth, Margaret Thatcher and The Goodies on television and David Soul/Joanna Lumley posters on the wall of the terrorized girl. There’s even time for a Elvis-inspired performance of Can’t Help Falling In Love With You by Wilson, but as the horrors pile up and demonic nuns shriek across the screen, The Conjuring 2 still manages to deliver the plentiful jump-scares that its audience demands.
Patrick Wilson has been a strong leading man in two Insidious films; he’s also a safe-pair of hands when it comes to action, and kicks-ass as a limo-driver who finds himself tangling with LA lowlife, notably Chris Pine as a nude parachuting crime-boss, James Badge Dale as a vicious drug dealer, and David Hasselhoff as a rather less attractive version of himself. Stretch is a good vehicle for Wilson, with Joe Carnahan showing the kind of style (as with Narc) and gift for tricky dialogue that makes his work worthwhile for those looking for some Tarantino-style wit. Ray Liotta, Ed Helms and Randy Couture are among a disparate cast.
Writer/director Todd Field followed up In The Bedroom with an equally dark but just as compelling drama, featuring Kate Winslet as Massachusetts mother Sarah who embarks on clandestine afternoon meetings with Brad (Patrick Wilson). Their initially chaste meetings, while their children play at a local park, gives way to a torrid romance, despite their family ties, and engenders a secret that affects the way they see the community around them. That disaffection becomes important as Brad’s friend Larry is suspicious of local outcast Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), who lives with his mother and has a complex set of mental health issues relation to women and young girls in particular. How the community treat Ronnie becomes mixed up with Sarah and Brad’s covert affair, and final few scenes of Little Children are intense and powerful as deception leads to consequences. Little Children is melodramatic at times, but the 134 minute length is justified by the eloquent way that Field draws out the mores of the suburban community, and engenders sympathy for Sarah and Brad and their fight against the common denominator of loveless marriages. A woman’s picture in the old style, Little Children is an accomplished adult drama.
Before hitting the big leagues with the third Twilight movie, director David Slade warmed up with the serious-minded exploration of pedophilia, featuring excellent work from Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. She plays Haley Stark, a young girl who decided to expose Jeff Kohlver, who has some incriminating evidence stashed away in his luxurious house. Hard Candy doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant details of the subject, but also twists the story to play games with audience sympathies; there’s ambiguities about Haley’s actions and Jeff’s innocence, thoroughly worked out in Brian Nelson’s theatrical but engrossing script.