There were enough red flags going into The Curse of La Llorona to make me worry. Setting a story that relies so heavily on a latino folklore in 1970s Los Angeles was one thing, and having a Caucasian protagonist was even worse. But this movie’s most serious flaw is that it simply feels lazy. There are enough good intentions to make you appreciate the effort, but every choice made feels like they wanted it to be done as quickly as possible with no regard for the original folktale or the people who care about it. Add a shoehorned-in last-minute Conjuring connection and you get this horror franchise’s version of The Cloverfield Paradox.
The legend of La Llorona, or The Weeping Woman, is arguably the most famous horror folktale in Latin America. Every country has their own version, but they mostly agree that La Llorona is the ghost of a woman whose children drowned (either by her hand, or someone else’s) and in her grief, she killed herself. She now spends her afterlife stuck in purgatory, weeping for her lost children and looking for new children to make her own. It’s a simple story, but there is no denying the huge impact it’s had on Latin American culture for generations, so it’s refreshing and exciting for La Llorona to finally make her debut in an American studio film. But this was the wrong film to do it.
We start with a prologue set in 1673 Mexico that shows the film’s version of the folktale, where our titular villainess murders her children, before jumping forward in time to Los Angeles. Here we meet social worker Anna (Linda Cardellini), a widower to a latino police officer who is called to the home of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez). What appears to be a normal case of terrible parenting actually has something even more sinister behind it, and before long, two kids are dead, and the evil spirit has set her sights on Anna’s children.
Director Michael Chaves makes an impressive directorial debut with The Curse of La Llorona, and within a few minutes you will realize why he was given the keys to the next Conjuring movie (he’s set to direct Conjuring 3). He knows where to place the camera so that you’re always wary of what’s lurking at the corner of the screen, as well as maintaining an ominous atmosphere through the use of darkness and shadow. He also knows how to pull a good jump scare, even though the film relies too much on the same sound effect and jump scare repeatedly. After the 30th time the camera pans to reveal La Llorona standing where five seconds before there was nothing, you will beg for something new to happen on screen.
During a Q&A after the film’s world premiere at SXSW, producers Gary Dauberman and James Wan talked about being inspired by ’70s police procedurals and wanting to include that feeling in The Curse of La Llorona. There is definitely a touch of that in the movie, as the first half is more of an investigation into what is haunting these kids, and an exploration of the dynamics of the Tate-Garcia family to make us feel invested in their well-being.
The performances are mostly good. Linda Cardellini is convincing as the widow Anna, a woman struggling to raise her two kids alone, who now must also battle an angry spirit. She goes from sweet and loving to badass protective mama bear in a flash, and it’s thrilling to see her in fighting mode once her children are threatened. Raymond Cruz is a highlight as the wisecracking, ass-kicking curandero that acts as this film’s version of Father Merrin from The Exorcist, while also bringing some much needed humor. Rounding out the cast is Patricia Velásquez in an overdue return to horror (or horror-adjacent) movies after her role in The Mummy. Velásquez instantly sells you her pain and grief after the loss of her children with lines like, “I feel nothing, because I have felt the worst.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t get to do much, and is in the film for less than 10 minutes.
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The Curse of La Llorona (2019) – Official Trailer
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For a film that is being sold as a very latino story, it doesn’t feel like the writers or producers gave much thought to either the latino characters, or any kind of latino flavor. Despite most of the cast being Latin American or of latino descent, their characters are little more than plot devices, only there to give exposition and explain the folktale, or to hand a weapon to Anna. It’s a pity, really, that the most important characters are kept at arm’s length. This extends to a lack of consistency, as any Spanish-speaker will notice that Raymond Cruz’s character speaks with a different accent every five seconds, not to mention the egregious use of Dora The Explorer-like bilingualism.
The titular La Llorona gets the most barebones of a backstory, without much depth to her or her background despite centuries of folklore across many countries. That being said, La Llorona is very effective at scaring the audience, and a scene involving an umbrella is most impressive and effective in its intent. The issue is that it pretty much feels like a Conjuring movie in every way imaginable, without acknowledging the cultures from which it borrows this story. From the long zooms and camera movements to the extremely unnecessary use of loud noises before each jump scare, it feels like horror by numbers. There’s also the very much not needed connection to the Conjuring universe–Curse all but name-drops the Warrens without any kind of payoff to justify it.
Despite featuring latino actors and being based on a latino folktale, The Curse of La Llorona lacks latino flavor, instead feeling like the blandest of the Conjuring movies. This movie had so much potential, but the forced connection to the rest of the franchise ends up making it feel like the Cloverfield Paradox–a side story with potential, but which didn’t live up to the standard set by the other movies in the series.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Michael Chaves’s direction will make you excited for the Conjuring 3||Feels lazy in its attempt to capture Latin American folklore|
|Enough thrills and scares to entertain you||Over-reliance on jump scares and loud noises|
|Cast does a mostly good job||Conjuring connection shoehorned in|
|Latino characters get pushed to the sideline and used as plot devices|