The Curse of La Llorona Director: Michael Chaves
Writer: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Cast: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velásquez, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Roman Christou, Sean Patrick Thomas
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rated R| Minutes: 93
Release Date: April 18, 2019
Representation matters in film in any genre. It doesn’t matter if it’s a romantic comedy, a superhero tentpole, or a horror, moviegoers have shown that they are hungry for these different kinds of stories, with different perspectives and different cultural touchstones. And as The Conjuring Universe continues to expand, it will mine all sorts of different kinds of creepy folklore and urban legends in order to keep the scares coming.
Such is the case with The Curse of La Llorona, which is based on a Mexican urban legend about the ghost of a woman who drowned her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her. Utilizing old school camera techniques and deliberately slow pacing, there are plenty of jump scares and nerve-wracking moments. But there is hardly anything else for the audience to care about. My full review below.
The film begins with a 1673 card that introduces us to the woman who drowns her children only to regret it, weeping over their dead bodies, and then kills herself. However, her evil spirit lives on, looking for new children to replace the ones she lost. For generations, children have ended up dead, but not before hearing the cries of the La Llorona. Flash forward to 300 years later, where we meet Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a social worker who is tasked with taking care of a case of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez), who is viewed as a troubled mother because she has locked her children away in order to protect them from La Llorona.
As Anna investigates further, she soon discovers that there is a connection between Patricia’s case and what she is experiencing with her own children, Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou). She soon discovers that La Llorona has attached herself to her family, and will stop at nothing to claim them. So Anna will protect her children at any cost, even if that means going to Rafael (Raymond Cruz), a disillusioned priest, to fend off the evil entity.
If anything, The Curse of La Llorona makes use of old school camera techniques and deliberately slow pacing to set the stage for those jump scares. Which there are a lot of. It’s not as though we haven’t seen these techniques be used in horror films. Things are out of sight and out of mind. Whenever the film robs us of sight, it makes uses of creepy sounds. But when we can see La Llorona, she is either blurred or appears on reflective surfaces. Whatever it may be, it all hints at the impending danger that is about to scare us. That dead silence or lack of sight makes for a good scare.
Even with the addition of characters making the wrong or stupid choices, these scares still make us jump out of our seats. The slow pacing still has us grasping at the end of our armrests. That tension builds. Then we scream and jump. Which is all well and good, and it would be better had there been some emphasis on the stakes.
Though it is refreshing to see that the horror genre is becoming more aware of representation by using other cultural folklore to scare its audiences, The Curse of La Llorona doesn’t have much else going for it. It may expand The Conjuring Universe by tapping into cultural folklore, but wastes a lot of its potential just on the jump scares alone. There’s no real anchor to it nor does it connect to its audience or have them really care about what’s going on.
Sure, we get to see how far Anna will go to protect her children. But much of that screen time is spent on her screaming whenever the evil entity is present or when she is pounding on the door as she is locked out from protecting her kids. Of course, since La Llorona is attached to Anna’s family, it doesn’t have time to spread its malice everywhere. It wants the lives of the family it has seared itself to.
While the stakes are firmly established, there is nothing to raise it. In fact, it wastes an opportunity to make things even more terrifying by having Child Protective Services separate her from her kids after a doctor reports seeing suspicious burn marks on the kids. This would have increased the amount of terror a parent feels when she cannot be there to protect her own children. It would have been a great mirroring device as Anna was the one who took away Patricia’s kids at the start of the film. But for some reason, the film chooses not to do that.
There is also the matter of La Llorona being a part The Conjuring Universe. Instead of trying to do so organically, La Llorona connects itself in the most uninspired ways. Just by showing a flashback of Father Perez (Tony Amendola) holding the Annabelle doll. The entire thing feels like lazy writing. It’s almost as if writers Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis had to put that flashback in there just for the sake of making La Llorona a part of The Conjuring Universe, instead of finding an organic way to do so.
For what it’s worth, Cardellini does her best with what she is given. She plays the widow and mother who is 100% devoted to her job and children. But that is pretty much it. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s great to see the lengths she will go to protect her kids.
But it’s strange to see her as the lead considering that there are strong Mexican aspects to the film. She plays a character who is a widow who kept the Garcia surname. She is a mother to bi-racial children. And yet, she’s the center of attention.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a strong mother character protect her children at all costs. And Cardellini is great playing a mother figure, it’s just that the focus was on the wrong person for this film.
Cruz, who plays a disillusioned priest who still believes in God but has walked away from the church to help cleanse the sins of those who aren’t as faithful or share the same beliefs. His deadpan humor lightens the mood during the film’s heavier moments. And Kinchen and Christou are fine. Although, they do get one big chance to shine during the third act.
The Curse of La Llorona works as a jump scare film. It scares us by robbing us of our senses, using camera tricks, great sound work, and slow pacing. But if you are looking for something with a bit more substance and something that makes full use of cultural folklore, you’re not going to find that in this film. Which is unfortunate, and a little bit sad, because it had all the right things to make it a terrific horror film.