The greatest crime that the new James Wan-produced horror film The Curse of La Llorona commits is trying to link itself unnecessary to the universe of The Conjuring/Annabelle. Outside of just feeling wedged in and laughable, it feels like the filmmakers didn’t have enough faith in the material to allow it to stand on its own and that a bigger audience might be generated if it tied together with this other horror mega-franchise. Plus, the linkage is so sketchy, it feels more desperate than clever. That being said, La Llorona still manages to generate a fair number of scares in a story that feels a bit too much like Mama but still finds ways to include some interesting, unique ideas, even at the expense of character development.
Directed by Michael Chavves (who just happens to be on board to direct the next Conjuring movie), La Llorona is a ghost story about the Weeping Woman (Marisol Ramirez), who hundreds of years ago in Mexico, was so angry at her cheating husband that she destroyed the only things he truly cared about—their two children. She was so distraught by what she did that she drowned herself and haunts the Earth looking for living children to replace her own, but then she ends up killing the new kids, so I’m not sure how that works exactly. As the film opens, Child Protective Services agent Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is visiting one of her cases, a mother who has her two kids locked in a supernaturally protected closet, which Anna opens in order to remove the kids from the home. But before the night is done, the two kids end up dead from drowning, and nobody can explain how it happened.
Not surprisingly, Anna has two kids of her own, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), who spot glimpses of La Llorona early and often, and spend the rest of the movie thinking they’re just seeing things rather than actually telling somebody. They both even get marked by the spirit, which looks a lot like bad burns on the forearms—marks that someone could easily mistake for signs of abuse at home. Once La Llorona becomes an undeniable problem for the family, they consult with one Father Perez (who some of you might remember from the first Annabelle film), who says it would take too long to get the church involved, and he points them in the direction of former priest and current faith healer Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz from “Breaking Bad” and Training Day), one of the true highlights of the movie. Olvera takes his job very seriously, to the point where he won’t even admit that he gets scared doing his work, a fact that results in some very humorous moments (intentionally or not).
The film features scares of all kinds—some feel cheap and unearned, while others are beautifully crafted moments of suspense that I genuinely enjoyed. Written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, Ll Llorona features a mostly Latinx cast and brings culture-specific elements to the story that feel somewhat different from your standard-issue horror flick. While bringing in elements of faith into a ghost story is hardly new, Olvera is a spiritualist like no other, and by playing him in such an understated manner, Cruz creates a character that I’ve never seen in a movie like this. As much of a fan as I am of Cardellini, Anna is a fairly thankless role of the protective mom who still seems utterly clueless that her kids are in mortal danger. Far from flawless, The Curse of La Llorona shows enough moments of promise to keep hungry horror fans satisfied, at least until something of more substance is released (hopefully soon).
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