By Joan Ellis
Why see The Conjuring? Because respectable critics have written reams of praise saying variously that it is gripping, fast-paced, and studded with good acting. One even called it “the best suspense movie of this year.”
After seeing it – or most of it – what lingers is astonishment that anyone would choose to go to a movie with full knowledge that they will be terrified for nearly two hours. Suspense is one thing, terror quite another. But that says only that some people love horror films just as others love westerns or musicals or family dramas. I am not one of them.
With that confession, I can also say that yes, the acting is good. Vera Farmiga is particularly effective as Lorraine, wife of Ed (Patrick Wilson). She is clairvoyant, he is a searcher. Together, they try to help people who are threatened by otherworldly activity – but only those in desperate need since Ed’s wife met some terrible fate on an earlier job. Lorraine and Ed meet Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) who, take my word for this, will need their help very soon.
Carolyn and Ed, you see, have bought an abandoned, isolated, rural wreck of a house to live in with their five daughters. It comes, of course, complete with a nightmare of a cellar and the recurrent sounds and actions of the former owners. The twist here is that the unwelcome lingerers are not ghosts in the usual sense. Ghosts at least are external threats. These abstract beings have the ability to burrow into a living person, to become an evil part of the people they choose to inhabit so the others don’t know who it is who walks among them.
Beyond setting this stage, there’s very little to say because my eyes were closed most of the time and my ears were covered nearly to the point of bruising. Here’s the problem: the music. It’s the music that sets in motion the inner certainty of impending doom. At that point I began to understand that the audience, while pretending to be calm, had become a terrified collective in a state of shared reaction. The man in front of me leaned on the arm of his seat so the hand covering his ear would appear to be a casual pose instead of a defensive act against the violence unreeling on the 30-foot screen.
Accuse me of being a coward, but not of being dishonest. When, 20 minutes before the end, the certainty of escalation became clear, my movie pal nodded toward the exit, I nodded yes and we bolted – an inexcusable move for a reviewer of movies. But I promise you that no matter what happened in the last 20 minutes that I didn’t see, fans of the horror genre will indeed gain an enormously satisfying shot of summer fear.
If terror is a measure of your pleasure, this one is a 9.5.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.