THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA is the feature film debut from director Michael Chaves which brings to life the terrifying Latin American folklore of La Llorona. The film stars Linda Cardellini (Netflix’s Bloodline, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Raymond Cruz (TV’s Major Crimes), Patricia Velasquez (TV’s The L Word, The Mummy films), Marisol Ramirez (TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles), Sean Patrick Thomas (the Barbershop films, Halloween: Resurrection), Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen (Selfless) and newcomer Roman Christou.
In 1970s Los Angeles, La Llorona is stalking the night – and the children. Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm. Their only hope to survive La Llorona’s deadly wrath may be a disillusioned priest and the mysticism he practices to keep evil at bay, on the fringes where fear and faith collide. Beware of her chilling wail…she will stop at nothing to lure you into the gloom. Because there is no peace for her anguish. There is no mercy for her soul. And there is no escape from the curse of La Llorona.
The folklore surrounding La Llorona is one that I only recently learned of. Otherwise known as the Weeping Woman, the tale centers around a woman who, upon learning of her husband’s infidelities, drowns her children in a fit of blind rage. After realizing what she has done, she searches the river in hopes of finding her sons but the river has claimed them for itself. Legend says that La Llorona must find her sons before crossing over into the afterlife and that if you hear her cries to run in the opposite direction or befall her curse. La Llorona stalks the night in search of children to call her own before ultimately drowning them, with most people claiming to see her in a white gown with a veil covering her face.
With picture laid out, I’m sure you can understand why so many people were excited about this film, me being one of them. Not only was I looking forward to seeing this terrifying myth come to life on screen, but for audiences to learn about an urban legend from a different part of the world. However, even though the film has a lot of strengths, it ultimately falls flat in terms of writing. With a legend such as this, I do think it should have been crafted by someone within the Latino community due to the importance that La Llorona has within their culture. Writers Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis try their best but honestly, this isn’t their story to tell and it shows through the dialogue as well as the missed opportunities to dive into the origins of La Llorona and the cultural impact that this legend has, and continues to have, within its community.
That said, director Michael Chaves does the best he can with what he is given. The film is beautifully shot and there are even a few moments that took me by surprise in terms of scares. One in particular, which has to do with a translucent umbrella, ended up being one of the best jump scares I’ve seen in recent years. Another scene, in which we find two young boys in an orphanage hallway, is filled with so much dread and uncertainty that when the reveal is exposed, it’s hard not to feel the abject terror that these kids feel. Chaves clearly has an eye for detail and setting up scares, which makes me confident that when he takes on The Conjuring 3, he will be able to truly show his full potential.
In terms of acting, Linda Cardellini shines as Anna Tate-Garcia, a social worker and widower caring for her two kids. While working on the case for one of her clients, Patricia Alvarez (played with incredible ferocity by Patricia Velasquez) she begins to uncover the legend of La Llorona. I really wish we got more screen time with Velasquez as she is a force to be reckoned with and really drives home how terrifying the curse of La Llorona is. Cardellini and Velasquez’s characters play off of each other wonderfully as moms who will do anything to protect their children and keep them safe. Cardellini, who is just stepping into the horror genre, does a phenomenal job of showcasing genuine terror and emotional depth. Then there is Raymond Cruz as Rafael Olvera, a disillusioned priest who agrees to help the Garcia family once La Llorona starts to terrorize them. He adds some much needed comic relief and in a way, kind of steals the show. My only caveat is that I wish we got a better understanding of the work he does in connection with Latin traditions and spiritualism as I feel like this was glossed over.
When it comes to the scares, however, I was a bit disappointed as I felt like I could see them coming a mile away. Now, this could be because I watch horror movies ALL THE TIME, but a part of me thinks this may not be the case. I wish that some of the scares didn’t follow the formulaic steps that many horror films incorporate but at least I got a few, such as the umbrella scene, that really impressed me. It should be noted, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t announced before, that THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA is part of the Conjuring Universe and there is a moment within the film where the viewer will learn how it’s connected (I would rather not spoil it here). That said, I feel like the Conjuring films (for the most part) are quality horror films which is why I was so shocked that THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA felt more “by the numbers” and safe in relation to the other films. Even when we get to see La Llorona, there was something lacking in her reveal which may be due to the use of CGI.
In all, I really had hoped for more from THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. Though it does pack a few good punches in terms of scares, and the overall visuals are rather beautiful, I just felt like the writers didn’t do the story justice. The legend surrounding La Llorona is rather terrifying, which is why it is such a shame that the story couldn’t truly bring it to life in a way that so many of us wished it would have. Even so, I would still suggest going to see it when it comes out because the performances are fantastic and at the very least, it gives those not familiar with La Llorona the chance to learn a little bit about her. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA is now available to own on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital and includes special features that delve into the mythology of La Llorona, as well as deleted scenes, storyboards, and the making of a movie monster.