The Curse of La Llorona is the newest horror film produced by master of horror James Wan (the Conjuring universe) and directed by first-timer Michael Chavez. Based on a well-known Latin American folktale, the movie is about a single mother and her two kids that are being tormented by the iconic evil spirit. It made its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
La Llorona is perhaps one of the scariest monsters of all of mythology. Her story has been around for hundreds of years and has been used by Latino parents for generations to scare their children into behaving. According to the tale, La Llorona went insane and drowned her own kids in a river and became a vengeful spirit as a result. That is not the La Llorona we see here.
The La Llorona featured in this film does have the same backstory of drowning her children, but doesn’t really capture many other aspects of the story well. Even her iconic cry of “Ayyyyy, mis hijos! (Ayyyyyy, my children!)” isn’t utilized to the extent that it should be. Instead, La Llorona is adapted into a traditional Conjuring universe villain that suspiciously plays by the rules of the horror movie genre.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the movie is that it feels the need to explain everything about the story (particularly to a white audience). One could almost get past the unnecessary amount of exposition that can be found throughout except for the fact that the main character in a film based on a Latino cultural story is white. Why couldn’t the Latino family’s story have been the main plot of the movie? There isn’t really a good reason.
The film sticks pretty closely to the Conjuring formula, but doesn’t have the things that make the successful entries (both of the Wan-directed main movies and Annabelle: Creation) work so well: compelling characters. None of the characters in the film are particularly interesting. There simply isn’t enough time spent developing them by giving them stories or even personalities. The filmmakers were more worried about the stupid jump scares.
The actors definitely try their hardest with their roles, and although their performances certainly aren’t terrible, they aren’t particularly impressive either. That is because they simply aren’t given enough to do. It seems like poor Linda Cardellini just isn’t going to get a role that lets her show her talent. In this movie, she is forced to act stupid for a majority of the time. The male star of the film, Raymond Cruz, is funny but a bit too over-the-top. That being said, the child actors do give surprisingly solid performances.
By this point, it is so easy to predict where the scares in the Conjuring movies are coming from. The typical scare goes as follows: an establishing shot, reaction from the character, then everything looks normal, back to the reaction, a somewhat creepy image, another reaction, and finally a jump scare. This happens for a significant majority of the scare attempts in the film.
On a technical level, this is also the weakest movie in the franchise. Even The Nun, which was an otherwise bland film, had a great look to it. The Curse of La Llorona only has one very well-shot scene, with the rest of the movie looking pretty ugly. This film also has quite a few effects shots (it seems like they are more frequent and more complex), and those looked absolutely horrible. The score is relatively rough too.
Overall, The Curse of La Llorona is another step down for the Conjuring filmmakers. It seems like the only ghost story that is going to work for them outside the core Warren tales is Annabelle: Creation, because nothing else has been very good so far.
The Curse of La Llorona debuted at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. It opens in theaters on April 19.