Film Review – The Curse of La Llorona
The Curse of La Llorona
The Curse of La Llorona (2019) is based on the Spanish/Mexican folktale where a woman – acting out of pain and anger after her husband leaves her – drowns her children in a river. Soon after, she is found dead herself. Legend has it that the woman was not permitted into the afterlife until she found the souls of her missing kids, and thus must spend an eternity looking for them. “La Llorona” translates to “The Weeping Woman,” because hearing her cries is a signal of her presence. The story is used as a warning to kids so that they will not misbehave or stay out too late, because that is when La Llorona will come for them.
It’s a pretty engrossing tale, and I can see how it can rattle youngsters by triggering their imaginations. It’s too bad the film doesn’t do it much justice. Outside of the popular folk roots, The Curse of La Llorona is yet another forgettable horror entry into The Conjuring franchise, joining the ranks of The Nun (2018) and the Annabelle series. There’s not a lot going on here that we haven’t seen before: a ghostly figure (almost always a woman) terrorizing a group of people with ghoulish make up and plenty of jump scares, with the camera cutting away at the high point of the scare so that we are saved from seeing anything gruesome or disturbing. It’s a weird trope: just as soon as we see something scary, the camera is always too eager to turn away from it.
Another interesting point is that – despite La Llorona obviously being influenced by Hispanic culture – the lead character is not of Latin descent. Director Michael Chaves and co-writers Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis try to work around this issue by making the protagonist, Anna (Linda Cardellini) the widow to a Hispanic husband. I suppose Cardellini was cast for the name recognition (and to her credit, she does the best she can with the material), but it feels like a missed opportunity given the cultural elements at play. It makes one wonder who target audience is.
Anna is in the middle of a constant balancing act: maintaining her work in Child Protective Services and raising two kids (Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) all on her own. After her latest case with another single mother (Patricia Velasquez) goes horribly wrong, Anna’s home gets invaded by none other than The Weeping Woman, who has set her sights on the souls of Anna’s children. Throw in a Catholic Priest (Tony Amendola) and a rogue shaman (Raymond Cruz), and we have all the trappings of your usual haunted house, chock full of breaking mirrors, slamming doors, and light switches that stop working at the most inopportune moments. You know, the basic stuff.
Right off the bat, this is not a very convincing horror movie, it gets progressively worse the further it moves along. However, there are some promising bits early on. Michael Burgess’s cinematography starts out with a bravado opening shot that careens through Anna’s home as she prepares the kids to go to school. The single shot take does a nice job of establishing the geographical layout so that when the terror arrives, we have a good understanding of where everybody is in relation to each other. There’s also another extended camera move once Anna starts hearing the mysterious bump and creaks late at night, following behind her as she explores every shadowy corner and dark hall, as though she’s never been in her house before. It’s a nice little sequence that creates suspense because of how it delays the inevitable “boo!” moment.
But besides those two examples, the narrative doesn’t offer much in terms of ingenuity. For anyone who’s seen more than five horror movies in their lifetimes, you’ll come to recognize a lot of your Basic Horror Clichés: how characters will investigate a scary noise instead of running away from it, or how someone will say “Do not open that door!” and yet the characters will do so out of sheer stupidity. One late scene had a character do something they were told not to, and the audience in my theater let out a unified groan because of it. There’s also the issue of seeing children in peril. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but seeing kids getting burned, drowned, and thrown across a room isn’t really my cup of tea.
Things do pick up when Raymond Cruz shows up. Some of you may remember Cruz as the coked-up villain from Breaking Bad. While he is not the over the top caricature here as he was on that show, Cruz does bring a sense of energy to every scene he’s in, even managing to garner some laughs in an otherwise dour affair. His character Rafael – an ex-priest turned healer and shaman – is not much more than an exposition dump, guiding Anna along and trying to help her get rid of La Llorona. But Cruz performs with an extra bit of flair, having some of fun despite his character being one-dimensional. I would much rather have seen a story of Rafael’s experiences with La Llorona (or any other ghost for that matter) than what we ended up with.
There’s not much more to say about The Curse of La Llorona. It offers cheap thrills with little substance, taking advantage of a folktale but not enriching or expanding upon it. Some may walk into this and hear cries, but not in the way they may be expecting.