The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

She Wants Your Children

The Curse of La Llorona, a.k.a. The Weeping Woman (depending on which part of the world you’re living in) isn’t the greatest chapter in James Wan’s ever-expanding Conjuring universe; but it certainly ain’t the worst either. The problem with this loose spin-off — based on a centuries-old Mexican folktale — is its unoriginality, with rookie director Michael Chaves following the same lazy haunted house blueprint that’s been done to death.

‘… I can’t see without my glasses.’

The movie opens with a brief prologue set in a rural village in 17th century Mexico, where a beautiful woman (Marisol Ramirez) who’s blinded by rage drowns her two sons in a river after discovering that her husband has hauled ass and left her for a younger gal. When realizing what she’s done, and out of sheer guilt, the woman commits suicide, with her ghost left to wonder the world in tears, looking for her boys, or any other youngsters she can prey on.

We then cut to a perpetually raining (?) Los Angeles, 1973 — cue the sounds of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ — where we meet social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a single mom who unwittingly gives the tearful specter exactly what she wants after learning that a mother she’s been looking after, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez), has been forcing her two young sons to live in a closet (of course, we know it’s because she wants to keep them safe from the Weeping Woman). Anna, however, fears the worst and opens the closet, releasing the boys and taking them away from the distraught Patricia, then placing them in foster care, where they’re basically sitting ducks. Within hours, the Woman in White attacks, drowning the two in a nearby reservoir. Labeled as the prime suspect, the now hysterical Patricia — who’s fuelled by anger, heartbreak, and revenge — calls upon the eponymous spirit to curse Anna and her mixed-race children, Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou). And thus, the spooky games begin.

Nowhere is safe

While this is a pretty spiffy setup for a ghost story, built around some solid pre-existing mythology, the script penned by writing team Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, Five Feet Apart (2019), is derivative at best, relying way too heavily on clichés to conjure up scares. It doesn’t help that director Chaves isn’t as savvy as Wan when it comes to crafting suspense either, the first-time feature filmmaker hoping that audience goodwill from Wan’s extended horror movie catalog will get him over the line; Chaves uses every trick in the book to try and frighten the pants off unaccustomed genre viewers — we’re talking creaky floors, dripping faucets, banging doors, sudden bursts of wind, and a creepy score by regular Wan collaborator Joseph Bishara, Insidious (2010).

Naturally, some of this stuff works, including an eerie sequence where the pale-faced ghoul haunts Anna’s kids in a locked car, and another (that features prominently in the film’s trailers) where young Samantha is having a bath, and a grime-covered hand begins to massage her head from behind, which she assumes is her mother’s but is in fact the vengeful spirit getting ready to shove the little girl under; the aforementioned scenes are probably the only stand out moments in an otherwise by-the-numbers horror outing.

‘… wanna hug?’

It’s also rather odd that a movie so rich in Latin American culture uses a Caucasian lead to re-tell its story, this conventional Hollywood angle robbing the flick of some of its Mexican flavor. This isn’t Linda Cardellini’s fault, who plays protagonist Anna, the ex-Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) star doing the best she can to elevate the so-so material, balancing the strong-willed widow’s guilt (of having allowed the supernatural entity to kill) with that of her own maternal instinct (to do whatever she can to protect her own offspring).

Telly actress Marisol Ramirez is okay as bogeywomen La Llorona; a cake-faced phantom often seen crying gooey, sludge-like tears, dressed in a soiled white gown and veil. She’s basically The Nun lite, the titular nastie jumping out from behind curtains, umbrellas or whatever else she can hide behind — she’s perhaps seen way too often and early on, which takes away some of her enigmaticness. Fighting against the forces of evil, Raymond Cruz, Alien: Resurrection (1997), injects life and comedy into the proceedings with his deadpan line delivery as Rafael Olvera, a priest-turned freelance faith healer or ‘curandero’ with a few nifty tricks (and exploding chicken eggs) up his sleeve. And oh, Tony Amendola also crops up in a brief cameo as Father Perez, the same clergyman he played in 2014’s Annabelle to, ya know, link the film to the rest of Wan’s paranormal pictures, La Llorona taking place in the same interconnected world.

‘Can you hear the cries?’

A very forgettable entry in Warner Bros.’ lucrative Conjurverse, The Curse of La Llorona is about as generic as horror gets; things go bump in the night, people do stupid things (like break a mystical barrier that’s keeping the ghost from getting inside a house), only to do something else that’s just as idiotic a few minutes later — you know the deal. While not entirely unwatchable, even if it barely manages to raise a hair, I’m certain that The Curse of La Llorona will forever be haunted by its own mediocrity.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Curse of La Llorona is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia