I love horror films but I try to avoid “angry spirit movies”, mostly because they’re generally lame and not very scary. Despite its cool promotional poster that caught my attention, The Curse of La Llorona falls into this category and I’m kicking myself for letting a cool poster sucker me in. Actually to call it a “horror movie” would be an injustice to other genuine horror movies. Llorona wants to be a horror movie, desperately, but I spent most of the film chuckling at how inept it was or cringing at the overuse of the “surprise with loud scream” jump-scare moments and “creaking door opening back and forth” tropes.
What’s even worse is that La Llorona is actually part of The Conjuring cinematic universe, which already has spooky ghosts and haunted dolls to creep us out. To be fair, the first 15 minutes are actually pretty good and teases a promising setup. But this confidence quickly becomes laughable and I couldn’t wait for the credits to roll so I could end the painful experience.
Directed by first-time feature film director Michael Chaves (who’s already pegged to direct the upcoming The Conjuring 3), our story begins in Mexico in 1673. La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) is with her husband and two sons in a field, a lovely warm image of a happy family. However, their happy vibe quickly disappears and we are given a glimpse of the horror La Llorona is capable of and shows us the birth of her evil.
Moving forward to 1973 in Los Angeles, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) is a widow doing her best to juggle work and raise two children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) after the death of her police officer husband. Working as a social worker for child services, she is tasked with checking up on a family whose case she has been looking after for the past four years. When she visits the family she finds the mother, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez) in a distressed state and her two sons locked up in a room. Doing her duties as a concerned social worker she removes the children from their mother and relocates them to a safe place. Or a place she thinks is safe.
Soon after the two boys are relocated they are visited by La Llorona and meet a terrible fate. Patricia blames the death of her boys on Anna for removing them from the safety of the locked room. La Llorona soon sets her eyes on Chris and Samantha after Patricia prays to the evil spirit to return her dead sons in exchange for the lives of Anna’s children. In order for Anna’s children to survive the evil that now hunts them, they must get help from Rafael Olvera – a former priest who uses unorthodox methods to combat the supernatural.
Despite the subpar story that mainly consisting of sudden loud noises and creepy swinging doors as La Llorona consistently fails to take Anna’s children (the former priest probably isn’t really needed to be honest) – the acting isn’t terrible. Linda Cardellini delivers a solid performance of a mother struggling with the loss of her husband but finding the strength to push forward in order to raise her kids and to keep her job. She’s a non-religious person who must overcome her doubts of the supernatural in order to protect her children from meeting a watery grave.
Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen are also quite good as two children facing death at the hands of a murderous entity. They are both very believable as brother and sister who are terrified about what hunts them but keep the truth to themselves – because who would believe such a story? Hindering their performance is a poor script which has them doing things I have a hard time believing terrified children would do. Scenes such as the moment where Samantha reaches across a protective barrier to retrieve her doll not long after a very terrifying encounter with La Llorona are obvious plot points meant to create another excuse for La Llorona to suddenly appear screaming and reaching for the children. Lame.
Raymond Cruz delivers an OK performance as Rafael Olvera but, again, is also hindered by the poor script. I really expected more from the former priest infamous for using “unorthodox methods” to defeat the supernatural. His involvement only seems to exist to provide a cheap and lazy reference to other Conjuring films, i.e. Annabella, and it’s frustrating to watch the character of Rafael stand around in key moments being ineffective for the purpose of dragging out a *ahem frightening moment. The scene where Anna encounters La Llorona in the pool while Rafael just stands by watching until the last possible moment to react is particularly frustrating.
If only I had the magic ticket from Last Action Hero so I could jump into the film and say to him “dude, are you gonna do anything, or are you just gonna stand there and watch…again?” Cruz does manage to deliver a handful of humorous lines that provide the film’s all-too-few moments of much-needed levity.
This is director Michael Chaves’ first feature film and he’s done a great job at putting together a polished looking film. It looks creepy. The pacing builds tension. Most of the acting is good. The ghost special FX look nice. It’s technically a well-made film, and it’s no surprise he’ll be directing a mainline Conjuring film soon. However, a poor story and laughable moments are what really let this film down. Throw in an over reliance on sudden loud noises and creepy door swinging and you realise quickly the appalling lack of substance. You are basically watching the same moment repeat itself until the end.
The Curse of La Llorona is a a comical attempt at horror about an incompetent angry spirit who can’t seem to drown the main kids, despite having her potential victims served on a platter. Incompetent killer ghosts make terrible villains and instead of creating a character that is supposed to frighten me I just sat there the whole time wondering how this creature never perfected the craft of snatching children in its 300 years of doing this as its primary purpose for existence. If you love movies stuffed with sudden loud noises and creaky doors swaying back and forth then you’re in luck because this is the film to watch. It’s also part of The Conjuring universe so perhaps you’ll want to watch it for that reason, too. At least you’ll be able to say you’ve seen them all. Good luck with that.