The Curse of La Llorona tells a story that will feel very familiar to all horror movie fans, the story of a curse created by a horrific family tragedy in the past that travels across time to terrorize an unsuspecting family.
In this case, the curse starts back a few hundred years ago when a Mexican wife, distraught after discovering her husband has been cheating on her, decides to take her revenge by destroying the things he loves the most in the world. So she drowns her children and then, realizing what she has done, drowns herself, too. Unable to find peace, her restless spirit, known as La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), is then forced to wander the earth seeking out children to replace her own and, because this is how movie curses work, killing them, too.
After kidnapping and drowning two young Latino siblings, and leaving their mother to take the blame, La Llorona sets her sights on the children of the recently widowed Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), who was the social worker for the two siblings. There follows a series of increasingly intense attempted abductions by the ghostly spirit before Anna finally seeks help from a local Shaman (Raymond Cruz), setting the stage for the anticipated battle between good and evil to begin.
What separates this film from the pack is not necessarily the story, but the stylish way which director Michael Chaves and his talented cast and crew tell it. Instead of resorting to simply throwing more gore up on the screen or adding too many unnecessary jump-scares to distract the audience, as far too many genre filmmakers do, Chaves works hard to create a lush cinematic landscape for the story to unfold in. From the flashbacks to a gorgeous summer afternoon when we learn how the Curse of la Llorona began to the seductive yet foreboding interiors of the suburban home where the curse resurfaces, it is clear how hard the director and his team, especially cinematographer Michael Burgess (Director of Photography on The Nun), have worked to make the look of La Llorona as striking as possible.
Part of the reason for the film’s aesthetic may be the fact that it isn’t set in the present day, but in 1970s Los Angeles and instead of simply filling the sets with pop culture references to keep hammering the point home, Chaves has instead opted to give the film the cinematic look and feel of a 70s horror movie. A movie shot on cameras using actual film, not digital imaging. And if they did use digital cameras and computer to capture that ‘film’ feel, then kudos to them for using new technology to capture an old look. It’s also cool that The Curse of La Llorona is being billed as playing ‘ only in theaters,” because it deserves to be seen on the big screen
The Curse of La Llorona is more than just a series of pretty pictures to gawk at, though. The cast is just as dedicated as the crew to make something new out of the familiar framework. Cardellini (Thelma in 2002’s Scooby Doo) is very compelling in the role of momma bear protecting her cubs, staying strong and believable in situations that would cause most actresses to resort to Scream Queen mode. Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen do an equally good job of avoiding cliches playing the roles of the Garcia children, with Kinchen stealing just about every scene she is in with a mix of strength and charm.
Cruz (Major Crimes TV series) makes his Shaman a character that’s difficult to like even after he agrees to help the Garcia family battle La Llorona. He’s more than a little gruff with a look in his eyes that seems to say he’s hanging on to reality with the tips of his fingers. It’s an attitude that plays well with what the Shaman needs to do and you soon realize you don’t have to like the guy to root for him to win. The fact that he almost blows it all by trying to make a joke at the end only makes you love him more.
The Curse of La Llorona has one weakness, and it’s a big one for a horror movie: It’s just not very scary. It’s full of jump scares and beautifully shot images of the Weeping Woman as she stalks through the halls of the Garcia house, but there is also a sense of deja vu watching it that makes all the ‘scary’ parts all too predictable. When you have a ghost that is associated with water and then shows us a little girl taking a bath, it’s pretty clear what is going to happen next. And while it’s certainly beautiful to watch unfold before you, chances are you won’t be that scared.
The film succeeds far better in terms of setting a creepy tone than making the audience scream. Kids trapped in a car with the monster just outside will always put an audience on edge. Having the creature slowly roll the windows down from the outside just sends them over. And a creaky old house in a thunderstorm will always be the perfect setting for a ghost story, the sound design that Chaves and his crew have come up with will make the hairs on your neck stand on end even when nothing is really happening.
Although it may lack a lot of actual frights The Curse of La Llorona more than makes up for it in many subtly scary ways: it’s doesn’t hit you over the head as much as getting under your skin.
- John Black, The Curse of La Llorona