Review: The Curse of La Llorona

by Andrew Parker

As dumb and predictable as modern horror tends to get these days, The Curse of La Llorona – the latest entry into The Conjuring extended universe – is a plot that needs about thirty seconds of explanation padded out with a bunch of jump scares strung together. It’s not the worst looking or shoddiest made horror movie to come down the pike in recent memory, but it’s assuredly near the top of the list if one were ranking them based on overall boredom and tedium. It’s 93 minutes of squandered potential and cliches.

The Curse of La Llorona takes inspiration from Mexican folklore, specifically a superstition surrounding a woman who murdered her own kids by drowning them back in 1673. Distraught by her own actions, La Llorona – the weeping woman, played by Marisol Ramirez – haunts families looking for new children to kill and call her own. Fast forward three-hundred years to 1973, and Los Angeles based Child Protective Services officer Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is working a case where a seemingly negligent and crazy mother (Patricia Velasquez) has been keeping her two kids locked in a closet to keep La Llorona from getting them. Not believing the woman, Anna takes the kids out of their home, places them in foster care, and they turn up dead the next day. Anna, a widow who has two children of her own (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), soon finds her own family stalked by La Llorona.

That’s about all there is to The Curse of La Llorona, and to say anything more wouldn’t be to spoil anything, but it would likely bore one to tears. Working from a script from Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (the duo behind the recent teen romance Five Feet Apart) that reads like it was written over a lunch break, first time feature director Michael Chaves can only offer up a lot of style over substance. It didn’t have to be so rudimentary when one considers that the bones of The Curse of La Llorona are rather strong and intriguing. There’s a much better film about myths, legends, and parental and childhood fears that’s begging to be explored, but none of it is in this final script. Instead audiences will be treated to my least favourite type of horror movie; one where previously intelligent kids and adults suddenly turn into barely functional imbeciles because the movie would end if the characters weren’t complete idiots.

The choices made by the characters in The Curse of La Llorona are bizarre, and while the set-up of their personalities and quirks doesn’t take long, the steps taken towards putting their own lives in danger are so out of place that one wonders if the cast were only shown the first twenty pages of material. The entire film could’ve been prevented if Anna didn’t have the bright idea to bring her children to a grisly crime scene in the middle of the night. Anna has seen the ghost for herself after her kids have already witnessed it trying to kill them, and somehow they don’t talk about this spooky miracle for over a day. The kids are constantly engaging in activities – like taking long baths alone – that they know will put them in danger, but they do it anyway. People are constantly doing things they’re expressly told not to do, not because there’s a supernatural power getting inside their heads guiding them, but because they’re just idiots. There’s a gruff faith healer and former priest (Raymond Cruz) brought in to help in the third act, and even he’s the type who will watch Anna and her family get battered and bounced around like ping pong balls for literally minutes with his jaw hanging down before finally deciding to step to provide spiritual assistance.

Everything except for the “long periods of silence before a jump scare” aesthetic is inconsistent and nonsensical in The Curse of La Llorona. Even how its titular apparition functions hasn’t been thought through. Although the ghost loves to drown her prey in any amount of water, she’s just as powerful when nobody is near anything wet. La Llorona can teleport pretty much anywhere (as ghosts can), but she has a hard time opening doors, and not just the type that have been mystically blessed to keep spirits out. It’s said that the ghost can thrive in darkness, but on more than occasion the ghost is seen attacking in broad daylight. People are constantly lighting candles and turning on flashlights, but they do nothing whatsoever. It doesn’t stop them from doing it, though. Without them, The Curse of La Llorona wouldn’t have any lighting at all.

For a horror movie to succeed on a level greater than a carnival funhouse or a ten-year old’s basement haunted house, the characters on screen can’t be stupider than the people in the audience. They can be the same intelligence and they can make mistakes and missteps, but making them as dysfunctional as those in The Curse of La Llorona is a death sentence for this kind of story. Any and all investment in the plight of Anna and her kids goes out the window the moment they start being stalked and they refuse to even talk about ways to stop it for an unbelievably long period of time. Compared to the other films in the Conjuring spin-off series thus far,  The Curse of La Llorona is handily the worst because it can’t compensate for how dumb it is. There isn’t any tongue-in-cheek humour (like The Nun), an easily identifiable gimmick (like the Annabelle movies), or any clear direction or complex characters (like The Conjuring films). The Curse of La Llorona is indistinguishable from hundreds of other horror films, both big and small, that couldn’t deliver shocks if lightning were to suddenly spring from the screen.

This isn’t a good look for anyone involved, but everyone tries their best with what they have to work with. Cardellini and the young actors playing her kids are good performers, but there’s only so much they can do. Similarly, Chaves (who has already been tapped to direct The Conjuring 3), shows some promise for the future, even though The Curse of La Llorona is an outright dud. He manages some great images – including a child glimpsing the ghost through a fence at night and an admittedly killer bit with a transparent umbrella – and the film’s spooky set pieces are paced slower and quieter than usual. The Curse of La Llorona shows that some of the people here know what they’re doing, but there’s no polishing this mierda.

Worst of all, The Curse of La Llorona holds no surprises for anyone who’s ever seen a movie before. If you’re scared or spooked by anything that happens here, I’d like to congratulate you on seeing your first movie and profusely apologize that it wasn’t much, much better. There’s one neat twist during the climax of the film, but it’s squandered in favour of even more creaky doors, breaking windows, and shots of people getting dragged across a room by an unseen presence really quickly. Everything else in The Curse of La Llorona happens exactly how you think it would without deviation. It’s like going into the aforementioned fun house and being given a map on the way in. If only the characters on screen have been given that same map. Maybe then the curse wouldn’t be passed on to ticket buyers.

The Curse of La Llorona opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, April 19, 2019.

Check out the trailer for The Curse of La Llorona:

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