The Curse of La Llorona is written by Mikki Daughtery and Tobias Iaconis. Directed by Michael Chaves. Stars Linda Cardillini, Raymond Cruz, and Patricia Velasquez. 93 Minutes. Rated R. Wide released to theaters April 19, 2019.
Let’s get this out of the way – The Curse of La Llorona is part of the ever expanding Conjuring Franchise. The priest from Annabelle appears in two scenes: first to give exposition of the history of La Llorona and then introduce a character to get the movie to act three. When he teases this character, he does so like we’ve seen him in other parts of the franchise – it sounds real fan-service, teased in such a way I was afraid Padre was about say “Ed Warren” and suddenly Ed and Lorraine Warren are in the movie. They’re not. Instead, Raymond Cruz, Tuco from “Breaking Bad” joins, the narrative as a fringe ex-priest now mystic-type. We did see him briefly in an earlier scene, but didn’t really make an impression. Even though he does deliver some lines to get a few laughs, he can battle it out with Alan Arkin in Dumbo (review) and Ian McShane in Hellboy (review) in a fight to see who is the most visibly and verbally annoyed to be in their shit film. Anyhoo, the priest is the sole connection to Conjuring, otherwise The Curse of La Llorona stands on its own as a post-Conjuring-style ghost flick.
The Curse of La Llorona isn’t an unmitigated failure, but it offers nothing new for any audience that has seen more than a couple modern haunting movies. It’s a placeholder for bored audiences to see when the arrive thinking Avengers is this weekend, or looking for horror but have already seen Pet Sematary (review). It’s so generic it hurts. Every scare sequence is so thoroughly mapped out, everyone – besides the jumpy person sitting next to Kim – can see each set-up, down to the shot, ahead of time. It doesn’t help the same sequence of shots are repeated again and again in each of these sequences. There are a few moments that almost work, like The Nun, but are sadly lost when the BWWWAAAM SCREAM moments break them up (think Woman in Black in use). Two years ago, director Michael Chaves made one of my favorite shorts at Bonebat 2017 (festival review), The Maiden – watch all nine minutes here (https://vimeo.com/163109217) – and I was hoping he’d bring that controlled, well executed flow (wasn’t expecting the deft comedy to come through though) to his feature debut. I don’t know how much is producer control and how much is him, but I’m sad to be disappointed after The Maiden.
Linda Cardellini does the best she can with scant material as a social worker whose family of two young kids (with recently deceased cop husband) gains the curse after one of her case’s kids are drowned. Side-note: I previously had concerns with a white woman being the center of a Hispanic folktale. The film dances around this by having the dead husband be Hispanic. There are notes of clueless white woman blundering into this ala Candyman, but it’s not enough really. Just give us an appropriate lead, dammit. La Llorona transfers to her… because? She was nearby. Cardellini takes her kids to the crime scene (as one does) and her son hears the weeping woman, so that I guess? It’s like your chilling at your house, and you look over at your pet and the pet sees it and takes it as “oh you want attention” and you’re “no, Harley I just looked to see where you were… on my lap now I guess.” Makes me wonder, if she finds and then kills two kids as soon as she dispatches two others , how the hell as no one made this connection of chained deaths? Not assuming a ghost, just seems to be a series of child murders across Los Angeles. She now has to figure out how to stop the chain of deaths and protect her kids. Along the way, the ghost leaves a few marks on everyone’s bodies, allowing a thin parallel to domestic abuse. I hesitate to bring that up at all, as it’s so underwritten and badly handled it’s an insult to those who have had to deal with it for real. There could have been something there to state about it through this movie, but it’s a glance at best.
Therein lies the issue with the film as a whole – everything’s a glance at best. Curse is underwritten to a fault. I like rules in my ghost or demon movies. You don’t’ need much, but they help create stakes and built narrative tension. Curse gives some set-up a cursory glance but tosses it all out the window, or makes up a new thing, as the scene requests. It’s infuriating. Let us set up the rules or the hows of this, and watch as they are built or fall down. It’s why I don’t’ like the Ju-On movies – things happen because they do. It never is anything more than “a ghost is after my kids.” Little character work between Linda and the kids or the side-characters such as Sean Patrick Thomas’s detective that are introduced, then dropped, remembered for a scene, then vanish again.
The titular ghost is laughable. As much crap as one can toss at the Valak in Conjuring 2 and The Nun (Bob’s Review; Cody’s here), at least Bonnie Aarons has a distinctly look and gets mileage as best she can in her scenes with what could have easily been a generic character. Unfortunately, Marisol Ramirez’s La Llorona comes off as a Bride Character in a JayCees Haunted House, with a white dress from the clearance rack at Goodwill and a layer of Tim Burton White Paint and running mascara. You won’t be seeing cosplay of this killer. Even her scares are the same as a teenager volunteer. Throw the hands up and roar at the camera. I reacted to these awful jump scares in the same way to do to this attempt at those haunted houses, a blank face and “well, you tried.” There is nothing subtle about setting up and paying off a scare. At this point, it’s so far removed from what made The Conjuring (and to a lesser extend The Conjuring 2) work so well six years ago.
She’s not scary, and neither is the movie.
Double annoying is so many of the scares are based around someone doing something very stupid. I’m gonna spoil a moment here to give my point: Midway through the third act, the ghost is forced outside and Tuco shuts the door in her face (did anyone ever just ask their pissed off ghost just to go outside) and he puts some seeds down over the threshold, Supernatural salt style (and only at this door – it’s notable the back door is WIDE OPEN at this point). He says, don’t break it or she’ll come back in. BUT! Sam, the little girl, sees her doll is OUTSIDE. So she reaches out, arm outstretched to get her doll. This scene goes on and on as she streches her hand to grab the doll, and of course she breaks the seed line after the manufactured fake tension is allowed to end and as she does so, she is yanked across the room in a very funny shot choice. A moment later she’s okay. For about a scene, she’s under the control of the ghost, acting as blank as the little girl in Dumbo. This is forgotten about in about five minutes by the way. There are many other moments with unintended comedy, including one presented in such a way that if this was a comedy, the ghost would slip on something on the floor.
The Curse of La Llorona is a spring placeholder horror film, bundled with piles of cliche and lack of tension or fleshed out narrative.