My first introduction to La Llorona took place a few years ago when I attended an immersive experience in San Diego titled Waking La Llorona. Since then I’ve been fascinated by the Mexican folklore of La Llorona, also known as the Weeping Woman, while equally terrified of what she represents. Fast forward to now, and fans of the legend are preparing to see it come to light on the big screen with Warner Bros./New Line Cinema’s latest horror film, THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. While attending the World Premiere of the film at SXSW last month, I had the chance to speak with the cast, along with my fellow journalists, where we learned more about the horrifying mythology of La Llorona (NOTE: Interview contains mild spoilers).
The story of La Llorona is one that is passed from generation to generation within the Latino community. Actor Raymond Cruz, who plays Rafael Olvera, a curanderos (a healer/shaman) who helps the Garcia family when they become targets of La Llorona, explains, “Everyone that’s Latin knows about La Llorona – she’s our boogeyman, she’s our Frankenstein. We’ve known about her since we were children. You hear about it from your relatives, your grandfather, your great-great-grandfather – all who have also heard about it when they were children. We get it, now it’s time for the rest of the world to get it.” Patricia Velasquez, who plays Patricia Alvarez, a mother who has experienced the horrors inflicted by La Llorona, continues, “Every country has its own version of La Llorona. Growing up in Mexico and Venezuela, my brothers would always scare us with La Llorona.” Being scared by brothers is one thing, having your parents put the fear of La Llorona directly in your heart is another, as Raymond explains, “My parents would say if you don’t listen [to us], La Llorona is going to kill you.”
There are many iterations of La Llorona, but the most common one is that of a beautiful woman who, upon finding out that her husband has fallen into the arms of a younger woman, drowns her children in a fit of rage. Upon realizing what she has done, she throws herself into the river, spending all of eternity kidnapping children, mistaking them for her own. Legend has it that if you hear her cries, you are in the presence of La Llorona. Though not the only story centered around her, the writers of the film chose to follow this adaptation rather closely. Director Michael Chaves expands on this by saying, “There were so many different versions of the story. We researched this a lot and we met with so many people. We spoke to abuelas and met with curanderos. The funny thing is the deeper you dig, you realize how many different variations there are – it’s been told so many times. Some of them are incredible like the version of La Llorona that goes after unfaithful husbands, luring them down to the river where she then turns into a horse face woman.” In the end, they chose to go with the most familiar of the tales as Chaves explains, “It became this balance of what is the scariest version? Ultimately, we want to capture that feeling of what kids would have when hearing the story the first time – which is, they are scared out of their minds. We just wanted to make a really fun, scary, ruthless movie and that was the La Llorona that we wanted to make. I think the version we have is a more traditional version where she is relentlessly going after children.”
With a cast featuring predominantly Latin American actors, Raymond and Patricia explained why this representation matters. “It’s important because in the old days you would see people who were painted brown or you had other people painted to look like Native Americans or Mexican in film,” Raymond explains, “To have Latin actors portraying Latin characters brings an authenticity from our culture. You can’t teach someone that, it’s ingrained in you and it contributes a lot to the film.” Nodding in agreement, Patricia, who is a Wayuu Indian, goes on to say, “It’s an honor to be a part [of the film] and present such an important story, legend, whatever it is you want to call it.”
As for Linda Cardellini, who plays Anna Tate-Garcia, a widowed social worker trying to raise her two children, the legend of La Llorona was completely new to her. “I didn’t know about [La Llorona] until I got the script. I started asking everybody I knew and one of my friends told me the funniest story. His grandmother used to tell him about La Llorona and one time his grandmother got mad at him and sent him to his room and it was night time. He heard two cats in heat and he swore that it was La Llorona and he ended up crying by himself in bed all night.” She goes on to explain how not knowing about La Llorona helped in her character development. “My ignorance about [La Llorona] serves the character in the story because it’s a way into the whole world. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and she really tries hard to help Patricia. She thinks she’s the only one that can help Patricia but instead dooms her and her children, as well as her own family.” What affected her most about the story was how it felt to be a mother witnessing these horrific acts happening to children. “I’m a mom so the idea of that is literally the most terrifying thing I could ever imagine. I remember reading the script alone at night and realizing within the first few minutes of the film that this wasn’t like a scary person killing teenagers who are being too sexually active or partying a lot. This was very innocent little children and once that started happening [to them], I thought, that’s terrifying.”
With a film so heavily drenched in Latin American folklore, one may be curious as to why the lead character is of a non-Latino descent. “From the beginning, we wanted an outsider,” explains Michael Chaves, “we wanted someone who comes in with no understanding so you could have that sense of discovery. What I love about this movie is it is such a great introduction of La Llorona to the world and to people who had never heard of her. You get that learning and that sense of discovery so we wanted someone that could really inject that into the movie and could ask all those questions. The character comes in with ignorance to a story and they get pulled through the wringer. I think there’s something so terribly fun about that.” Chavez couldn’t be more on the nose about being pulled through the wringer as the Garcia family deals with a heavy dose of terrifying supernatural occurrences that are sure to make audience goers jump at every turn.
When talking about the scares, specifically one that includes an umbrella, Chavez explains, “The umbrella [scene] was one of the things I brought to the film. I thought we should do something with an umbrella because it’s rainy and cool and I started seeing these umbrella online that were translucent. I knew we could do something with that and it had a very 70s vibe to it. Just the idea that it’s kind of distorted and obscured, and when you look through it you are seeing something but not being too sure. I thought that was really fun and I loved how it also tied in with the wind. The wind is such a part of the legend – this howling, whispering wind – it felt like a lot of things came together with that.”
Speaking of things coming together, the question on everyone’s mind, prior to the showing of THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA, was if it was going to be tied into any of the Conjuring films. The film does reveal it is, in fact, tied to the universe through the original Annabelle film. Chaves explained, “There were a lot of discussions. The first script that I had, had Father Perez in it and I think there was some debate. The script was already in such a good place that James [Wan] was really excited about it. What we had hoped, and I continue to hope, is that audiences can discover that connection.” As for why the studios didn’t market it as the next film in the Conjuring Universe, Chaves says, “I think that was part of the secret. Surprises and secrets are now so rare, but in a way that’s almost more infectious; when you are trying to keep it a secret. I think that was part of the fun of it.”
So what do the cast hope audience goers take away from THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA? “I hope audiences going in don’t know anything about [La Llorona] and then walk away with complete knowledge of La Llorona and are afraid,” Raymond says. As for Patricia? “It’s a very important story for us, but I want [people] to know that they are going to be super entertained and scared, but when they come out, they are going to feel empowered.” Are you ready to come face-to-face with the Weeping Woman? Then make sure to check out THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA when it arrives in theaters Friday, April 19th.