The Curse of La Llorona
2019, R, 93 min. Directed by Michael Chaves. Starring Linda Cardellini, Marisol Ramirez, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., April 19, 2019
Is there any other genre that pushes producers over directors more than horror?
For a while we had Eli Roth attached to singular projects, but now his name has been tarnished from a decade of producing mediocre genre movies and not making enough good movies himself to counter this. Now the big name in the horror world is James Wan, the man who kick-started a long line of profitable franchises: Saw, Insidious, and the colossally messy Conjuring universe.
That franchise that used to be films either about or adjacent to Lorraine and Ed Warren cases, but now has turned to folklore with The Curse of La Llorona. A ghost from Latin America, La Llorona (Ramirez) haunts families searching for children to replace the ones she drowned out of spite to her cheating husband. In Michael Chaves’ film, this scorned, dead wife is after the children of Anna Garcia, played by the wonderful Linda Cardellini. Marking her kids as her victims by grasping their wrists and burning her fingertips into their flesh, La Llorona crushes the safe space Garcia has been trying to keep together since her husband passed away.
The late husband is the trick that put Cardellini in the center of an otherwise Hispanic story, her character meant as a mirror for an American audience who isn’t familiar with Latin American ghost stories. She’s guided through traditions and cultural superstitions that are otherwise unfamiliar to her because her husband was the “religious one” in the family. However, in the end it comes across like an excuse to still cast a white lead, since La Llorona’s story has more in common with the traditional Catholic haunts audiences are already so jaded by than with the original folklore.
There are pieces in the film that almost feel interesting, but as a whole it’s clear that Chaves was a hired hand to make a Wan-like vehicle. From Wan’s signature tracking shots down to the ghost’s design itself (La Llorona gives off intense Bride in Black vibes, from her wedding dress to the black tears she weeps), there is nothing original in this movie that has curiously been plopped into the Conjuring franchise. Just because you have all the pieces, doesn’t mean the jigsaw puzzle is going to feel like the master’s creation.
And the pieces here are hollow. The script is generic by design so it can be spoon-fed to a built-in horror-loving audience. Chaves oversaturates The Curse of La Llorona with jump scares, and none of them are particularly effective. There’s an underwater scene in a heightened moment that has some promise, where Cardellini dives into a pool to drag her daughter out from the spirit’s claws, but it’s muddled down by dirty dishwater visuals that will age poorly. While Cardellini gives her best effort to carry the film on her shoulders, the surrounding cast drains her power. The children are one-note to a fault, and supporting actor Raymond Cruz, who plays a rent-an-exorcist type, attempts to charm his way through his role with a deadpan performance that ends up sucking the film dry of spirit. Every character is predictably bland, because every character is the shell of a caricature from another low-budget modern horror movie.
That’s all The Curse of La Llorona is: a cheap attempt to re-create the spark that has made the Conjuring franchise so lucrative. It’s pathetic, and both horror fans and the Latinx community deserve more respect than this lazy attempt at a cash grab. A decent performance from Linda Cardellini doesn’t save a film loaded with predictable jump scares and weak mythos building.