The “Conjuring” series and its extended universe has become one of the biggest and most popular horror franchises of modern-day spanning to three separate series, the main “Conjuring” films, the “Annabelle” films and, most recently, “The Nun”. This weekend we get the latest entry in the franchise, a standalone story that is based on the Mexican tale of the Weeping Woman, La Llorona. The sixth film in the “Conjuring” Universe, “The Curse of La Llorona” is the feature film directorial debut of Michael Chaves who will also be directing “The Conjuring 3” set for release in 2020 and is written by duo Mikki Daughtry an Tobias Iaconis who also wrote the sick-lit-esque film “Five Feet Apart” released earlier this year. So, in many ways, this film is a showcase of not only up and coming Hollywood talent, but also the style of a director who will be significantly involved with the future of the “Conjuring” franchise. Combine that with its legendary source material and you have a horror film with a lot to live up to. How well does “The Curse of La Llorona” live up to the hype? Let’s find out. This is my review of “The Curse of La Llorona”
“The Curse of La Llorona” takes place in 1970s Los Angeles and follows social worker Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a widow and mother of two children. Anna checks in on a family she has been working with only to find the children locked away and their mother aggressively trying to keep them hidden from something. After her discovery, Anna and her children start to encounter strange occurrences at their home noticing striking similarities to the family Anna had checked in on. Anna deduces with the help of a priest named Father Perez (Tony Amendola) that she may be the latest victim of the Weeping Woman otherwise known as La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) of Latin legend who murdered her own children and now seeks to replace them with the children of others. Desperate to end the supernatural torture Anna turns to a disillusioned priest named Rafael (Raymond Cruz) to help stop La Llorona before she lays claim to her children and moves on to a new family to continue her terror.
Like the “Annabelle” and “Conjuring” movies before it, “The Curse of La Llorona” is based on real legend, in this case, the story of the Weeping Woman. This story, often seen as unproven folklore, is meant to scare children into behaving or prevent them from staying out late at night or else they will be kidnapped by La Llorona. I’ll say first off that probably one of the most glaring problems with “The Cure of La Llorona” is that it doesn’t really fully embrace the potential of this legend. La Llorona is a pretty cool character and a creepy antagonist with a neat backstory but this movie isn’t really about misbehaving children. We find out as the film plays out that La Llorona is targeting Anna’s family for a different reason. I mean we do see Anna’s son first encounter the ghost by disobeying his mother, but we later find out this was not a coincidence and there was another force that brought La Llorona to target the family. It would have been really cool to see a story that incorporated La Llorona’s legendary motivations a little bit more, and this film does provide a neat setup for it. Imagine if La Llorona DID target Anna’s children simply because they disobeyed? That would have been more than enough to make for a compelling narrative. Instead, though the screenplay turns La Llorona into more of a tool for revenge which undermines her normal goals. As a result, we’re given what amounts to a fun but generic haunted house story that leans more heavily on jump scares and the imagery of the ghost than the terrifying legend of her origins. Seeing a film about kids misbehaving who become the target of this ghost would have been a lot more interesting in my opinion.
But with that said there are a lot of elements of “La Llorona” that stood out for me for good reasons. The atmosphere I thought was fun and captured a familiar look and feel when compared to the other “Conjuring” films. It’s dark, grey and unsettling, just what you’d expect. I also did like La Llorona’s design which feels in keeping with the ghouls and ghosts of the franchise. As a small piece of the “Conjuring” Universe there are also several nods to the series as a whole that keep it slightly connected to the previous films. Father Perez, the priest from “Annabelle”, makes an appearance while several scenes harken back to powers and moments of past “Conjuring” movies. There’s one scene where two young boys are being stalked by La Llorona and one of the boys thinks the ghost is in the corner of the room. This almost directly mirrors a similar moment from the first “Conjuring” movie. Another call back is the side effect of sleepwalking that impacts La Llorona’s victims, another callback to the first “Conjuring” film. These are cool Easter Eggs for those who choose to seek them out and aren’t too distracting, actually creating some continuity in the overarching narratives of this universe that shows that the ghosts and demons actually have similar powers or paranormal effects on their subjects.
The problem with this though is that it’s very clear that “La Llorona” was trying to juggle both doing its own thing as well as being part of this wider universe. A lot of the shooting styles, color pallets, and again some call back moments seemed purposefully put into the film to remind us that this is a story within the “Conjuring” Universe. To me, this prevented it from having its own identity as the filmmakers implied it would. “La Llorona” tries too hard to feel familiar instead of embracing its own unique charm which I believe is the primary source of its downfall overall. It’s really cool that the “Conjuring” Universe is incorporating more real-life legends of horror into its world but to do so properly these movies need to be able to find their own footing. “La Llorona” feels like it’s trying too hard to stand out in the “Conjuring” Universe but not the horror genre in general, leaning heavily on easy genre tropes and clichés and jump scares rather than the natural frightening concept of its source material.
That said though one of the most important parts of any horror movie is to be scary and as cheesy and predictable as “La Llorona” is most of the time I did find myself enjoying the tension, buildup, and quality of the jump scares which at times had me white knuckling my armrests and embracing that “don’t go in there!” reaction that makes going to a horror movie so much fun. The tone of the film also keeps things really tense and uncomfortable but levels things out in the final act with a heroic character who adds some much needed levity to the picture. I do wish there was a little more creativity and imagination brought to the table with the scares though. There’s no getting around the fact that this movie takes the easy route in its attempts at effective horror which, again, prevents it from standing out not only in the larger “Conjuring” Universe but in the genre as a whole. We’ve seen movies like this over and over again before and most times they’re pretty fun and harmless horror escapism. “La Llorona” is no different. It’s fun and has its moments but most of those moments are steeped in the same old song and dance we’ve come to expect from the genre with few successful attempts at putting its own spin on these clichés or establishing its own identity.
It doesn’t help that some of the performances don’t do this film any favors either. Linda Cardellini is actually quite good in this film as the lead and is the most tortured character having lost her husband and the effects of La Llorona causing her to be investigated for child mistreatment despite her being a social worker herself. It’s a neat story arc that plays into the family drama caused by the effects of La Llorona. Marisol Ramirez I also a lot of fun as La Llorona and is even given a moment to let the ghost’s humanity shine through in one of the more tender moments in the film. However, the rest of the cast is either just there or don’t really bring their A-game. Anna’s two children Chris and Samantha are played by young actors Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou who are by far the most forgettable children in the “Conjuring” continuity so far. Raymond Cruz sells most of the more hilarious moments to break up the tension but otherwise feels like he’s trying a bit too hard to be an overdramatic hero figure. I think my biggest problem with this cast is that I couldn’t imagine them as real people nor did they seem to be grounded in reality. I never felt like any of these people were truly in danger, which is an important element for any horror film, not just a “Conjuring” movie. Maybe that’s more due to the direction or screenplay, maybe it’s more about the acting. It’s probably both, but either way it definitely impacts the final product as much of the cast is either unconvincing or forgettable.
My final thoughts on “The Curse of La Llorona” are mixed. I actually had fun with the film, but I enjoyed it thanks to its certain level of predictability. The scares, atmosphere, and titular ghost are all pretty fun and effective, but they lean heavily on clichés and concepts that have worked well for the “Conjuring” films in the past rather than giving “La Llorona” an identity all its own. It plays it safe with a lot of its elements but does deserve credit for adding some levity into the mix to break up the tension. The acting also isn’t great or terribly convincing save for a few exceptions. All in all, “The Curse of La Llorona” is by no means something special, but it carries enough merit to warrant its viewing. It’s harmless and formulaic horror movie fun that works where it needs to even if it could have benefited from a bit more imagination and more focus on the legend it was based on rather than a more typical haunted house story setup. If you enjoyed the “Conjuring” spinoffs like “The Nun” and “Annabelle” this film will probably suffice. If you’re looking for something a bit more inventive and unique, I think you’ll be disappointed. In the end it all adds up to “La Llorona” being an average horror movie at best.