THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA

A majority of The Conjuring films are lame. There. I said it. I can respect the first film and the craft involved with most of them, but the sequel and various spin-offs are about as lazy and generic as it gets when it comes to horror. It’s all people seeing stuff in the dark, screaming, and nothing happens, then usually a jump scare, or a loud noise. They mostly lack tension because their demonic forces don’t seem to pose a legitimate threat, especially in the horror flatline that was Annabelle: Creation. A vast majority of audiences love ‘em, though, so we’re unsurprisingly on our 6th film out of 9(!) potential films. Here we go… again. 

The Curse of La Llorona follows social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) a widowed mother of two children. The recent death of her police officer husband has made it difficult juggling her home and work life. Things are complicated more when Anna goes and performs a welfare check on the home of Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez), where she finds Patricia’s children locked in a closet. It turns out she was trying to keep them safe from La Llorona, an evil ghost who takes children and drowns them. Well, Patricia’s kids end up drowned and La Llorona is onto her next victims: Anna’s children.

La Llorona is an old Mexican folktale about a woman who drowned her children, felt bad, killed herself, now haunts rivers and whatnot to take other kids and drown them. It’s a classic ghost story to keep kids from running off to far and to come home before dark. I remember hearing it as a kid and it naturally terrified me, so when I saw a film based on it, my curiosity was mildly piqued. First off, I like when horror movies have the balls to kill children, and since this is based off that, it happens twice in the first half hour! Director Michael Chavez and screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis certainly had the cojones. Sure, it’s true to the legend and you kinda have to have it, but the fact they didn’t shy away from it was nice. It made the stakes feel real and La Llorona as a genuine threat, especially since she’s a ghost that just won’t leave you alone until she gets what you want.

The cinematography is pretty terrific, evoking some decent atmosphere at times. The lighting is wonderfully moody, with a lot of playing with pitch darkness and shadows, evoking John Carpenter’s Halloween at points. I got some Evil Dead vibes too from the great steadicam shots and excellent use of timing with the editing that amplifies the scares. It would have been nice if the pace ramped up a bit more at the end, though, as the last act really dragged at points. It at least helped that we had characters that we actually cared about and a story more developed than most ghost flicks. The story is really about Anna and her children grieving the death of her husband. It doesn’t get too developed or resolve in a satyisfying way, but there was enough there for me to care about the characters and what they were going through. It helped that the performances were pretty great. Cardellini is too good to be in stuff like this, but she does her best, embodying the grieving, protective mother to a tee. The child actors are quite good too, especially Roman Christou as the son, who sold all of the horror sequences perfectly. That kid could look scared! Raymond Cruz, most famous for portraying Tuco in Breaking Bad, gets the short end of the stick here, being used for exposition and comic relief, in which he sells neither. He’s a great character actor who seemed held back by the script.

But even for all of the technical prowess and decent scenes of tension, it’s still a generic, predictable horror film that goes through all the beats you would expect. However, it’s refreshingly light on jump scares. They’re obviously used here and there, but they felt far more appropriately used than in the other films in this franchise. There was some great misdirection at times, where it would build to where you think the jump scare would be, then subvert that to only happen moments later. Most of these jump scares are used effectively, while the rest fall into the cheaper and more predictable category. La Llorona herself isn’t that interesting, just looking like the nun from The Conjuring 2, but wearing white, instead of black. Like I said, there was some genuinely creepy imagery and decent scenes of tension, but I just find a majority of these ghost characters to be incredibly lame. 

It’s amusing and somewhat sad how Warner Bros. shoehorned The Curse of La Llorona into The Conjuring Cinematic Universe (CCU?) It would have been a perfectly fine as a standalone, but gotta get that dough, I suppose. There’s a hilariously cheap sequence that talks about Annabelle, with footage that looks like it was shot last week and then thrown in the movie. It was just a reminder during a somewhat decent horror film that this is just another cynical cash grab by a studio. But hey, as far as studio cash grab horror films go, it’s certainly one of the least-bad ones. 

6/10

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