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.
Emily Blunt turns out to be the major plus and saving grace of this Tate Taylor adaptation of Paula Hawkins‘s bestseller. With the action unwisely shifted from the UK to the US, Blunt plays Rachel, a permanently plastered woman who finds herself drawn to the mysterious actions inside a house she can see from her daily commute. Why is Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) missing? Is Luke Evans up to something? Is Blunt shielding herself from the truth about her own actions? And why is Lisa Kudrow from Friends in this? The answers are all unraveled round about the half-way point, and even if some of the initially storytelling is muddled, that can be excused as matching Rachel’s own befuddled state of mind. What could be a mediocre thriller is saved by Blunt, as empathetic as ever, and making a decent fist of a tricky, unreliable heroine.
Scottish director David Mackenzie has made his fair share of head-scratchers, from his poor concert rom-com You Instead to his baffling sci-fi opus Perfect Sense. The further he gets from home, the better his films get, and his follow-up to Starred Up is his best to date. Jeff Bridges plays Marcus, the grizzled Texas Ranger on the trail of two bank-robbers Tanner and Toby (Ben Foster, Chris Pine), brothers who have reluctantly decided to operate on the wrong side of the law since their mother passed away. Taylor Sheridan’s script is peppered with memorable scenes and characters, including a couple of pithy waitresses, and neat reversals of expectations. And when the finale comes, it’s got the drive and violent verve of the best dime-store novels. Dismissed by some as a Coen Brother knock-off, Hell or High Water is an intense, thoughtful thriller with a unique atmosphere of its own.
Ben Affleck’s achievements as a director are considerable, but clearly he envies Matt Damon’s signature role in the Bourne films and fancies a franchise of his own. Gavin O’Connor’s film is fairly old-school in its taciturn hero, perky love interest (Anna Kendrick) and nefarious villains. The treatment of autism may not be so straight-forward; it’s not the first film to present a disability as a super-power. But as Christian Woolf (Ben Affleck) goes about the business of uncovering a mystery in the books of a wealthy client, there’s enough small-scale action to keep things ticking over, although the sub-plot involving JK Simmonds as a cop ultimately feels like nothing but padding. The final gunfight briefly lifts things to a John Wick level, but the outrageous style isn’t there. The Accountant is predictable fare, but just about passes muster as a routine action flick.
John Hillcoat is a skilled but sometimes overtly pretentious director (The Proposition, Lawless) who really needed a good B script to reign him in. Matt Cook’s Triple 9 gives him exactly that, a pared-down noir thriller which sets cops and robbers against each other in downtown Atlanta. A closing credit extends viewers an offer to come and visit Atlanta, but that’s highly unlikely given the portrayal of the city as a lawless hell-hole. Casey Affleck is the driven cop, and Aaron Paul and Chewitel Ejiofor amongst the thieves, and the heist scenes are tough and vigorous. Only Kate Winslet’s Mafia-boss stretched credulity, and the final plot mechanics are silly, but Triple 9 is a nice enough B-movie thriller with A-List talent to burn.
Vin Diesel is never afraid over over-sell his material, and his prophesy of a franchise for The Last Witch Hunter seems somewhat redundant when Breck Eisner’s fantasy thriller his screens like a rotten tomato in 2015. Then again, Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick seemed to have flatlined another franchise until Diesel brought it back from the dead, so who knows? The Last Witch Hunter certainly has something to commend it, not least some tongue-in-cheek support from Michael Caine and some nicely rendered CGI-backdrops as Kaulder (Diesel) cannons through the centuries into a big boss battle with a Queen Witch. With reams of laughable expository dialogue about Witch Prisons to stumble through, The Last Witch Hunter is a nice example of the good-bad movie; it’s gibberish, but at least it’s fluent gibberish.
A sequel of sorts to 2008’s Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane works just as well, if not better, as a stand-alone thriller. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a perfect Sigourney Weaver-style scream queen, gutsy and vulnerable in equal measures, and the set up is minimal and terse. Fleeing her boyfriend (an un-credited Bradley Cooper in a voice cameo), Michelle gets into her car and drives; a road accident leads her to waking up in the underground bunker of Howard (John Goodman). Howard and his helper Emmett (John Gallacher Jr) are hiding out as new of some kind of surface contamination breaks, so Michelle throws in her lot with Howard reluctantly. Dan Trachtenberg’s taut thriller ratchets up tension, notably during some parlour games, and even when the plot is finally revealed, the director keeps the scale small and the intensity on point. There’s valuable lessons on how to build a homemade hazmat suit, and even though the final tip into sci-fi is predictable, there’s so much to enjoy before that point that it’s hard to begrudge the splattery pay-off. If nothing else, this JJ Abrams production might just be the most intense PG-13 movie ever; any children watching are likely to need the services of a therapist for years to come.