Synopsis – Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm.
My Take – Released back in 2013, filmmaker James Wan‘s horror film, The Conjuring, kick started an unexpected shared horror universe. Spawning a slew of sequels and spin-offs, with each production commercially being well received by an audiences craving big scares from the supernatural unknown, hereby making it the second highest-grossing horror franchise in cinema history, with only just five films in its kitty.
Now with its sixth entry, the series brings in Latin American folklore into the mix where a woman in bride’s clothing is out of give us a new forms of nightmares. But unfortunately despite director Michael Chaves’ best efforts, the film just never feels original enough to stand on its own. Initially sold as a secret that it is a part of the The Conjuring series, probably because the spin off entries have been mostly hit or miss in terms of quality, but as proven with box office turnover of last year’s The Nun, it seems viewers aren’t exactly expecting much more out these endeavors than the basics in jump scare gymnastics, that is until the main attraction, The Conjuring 3, comes out.
While there’s nothing particularly new about this film too, it does manage to bring ample entertainment in the horror department, which comes in the form of all the jump scares and spooky ambiance we’ve come to expect with a surprising amount of humor to break things up.
It’s just that one expects more from Wan and the filmmakers he hires to develop the universe’s arc, while this one fares better than The Nun and Annabelle (2014), it feels merely more of the same. But in case you are one of those, who doesn’t really bother with a plot or a backstory, then worry not as the film charges full steam ahead right from the first scene as a fright machine, working in as many shocks, jolts, and booms as possible while offering a tenuous connection to the world of The Conjuring.
Set in 1973 Los Angeles, the story follows Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), a recently widowed social worker, who has been struggling to keep her professional and personal life from falling apart following the death of her husband, a police officer. However, her life turns for the worse when Anna’s visit to one of her clients, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), goes awry when she finds that her two terrified boys had been locked away in the closet.
While Patricia claims about protecting her sons from La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), a malevolent spirit of a 300-year-old Mexican woman, the skeptical Anna goes ahead and puts the boys into the system. But as it turns out, Patricia was right to be fearful for her sons, and after tragedy strikes, Anna soon realizes that her own young children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), are also now in danger.
Realizing that she is completely unprepared to deal with such a malevolent force that will stop at nothing to get its hands on her kids, Anna enlists the help of Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former priest who has spent much of his life contending with evil forces, and who knows just exactly what lengths they must go to in order to stop The Weeping Woman from getting two more victims.
Cue all the usual horror film scenes. There are a lot of jump scares here, but to the credit of director Michael Chaves, some scenes are quite well done, this includes a hair-raising bathtub scene and the film’s climax. While this film is the latest addition to the mega successful The Conjuring Universe, it mostly stands on its own. One character from a previous film appears, and one old villain makes a slight cameo, but you can go into this one without having to scare yourself through all the earlier films.
After a genuinely creepy opening sequence, that gives us the story behind the titular female ghost of the Latin American folklore, also known as the weeping woman, director Michael Chaves effectively builds up an intense feeling of dread and manages to bring a very strong visual style to the film that crafts a dirty and creepy vibe managing to underpin the entire film.
The opening scene will undoubtedly get your blood pumping and proves to be one of the most haunting sequences of the film, next to a scene featuring an umbrella next to a swimming pool. Considering it’s a story that has been around for hundreds of years now, becoming a cautionary tale that parents have used as a means to keep their kids in line, this folklore has been ripe for a cinematic interpretation for quite some time now, and director Michael Chaves does an excellent job of tapping into just why generations have grown up haunted by the fear of being taken away by La Llorona, if they don’t behave and mind their elders.
Here, director Chaves also does some exceptional camera work by following the Garcia family around their house as the children get ready for school. It’s shot in one three-minute long sequence similar to what director Wan did in 2013’s The Conjuring. We get an idea of what the geography of the house is (which will come in handy later) and a feel for how the family lives their lives.
While the horror sequences are mostly effective, the factor which plays in the spoilsport is the script from Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, who barely scratch the surface of its fascinating concept. It’s a horror film that would’ve worked better as a twenty minute short film, because at a run time of 93 minutes, the story had very little to say. The genuine atmosphere is undercut by noisy jump scares reveals, and beyond a brief yet intriguing prologue in 17th-century Mexico, director Chaves and his writers make little effort to develop their antagonist further.
While there are some great moments, the script is littered with narrative dead ends: Anna’s dead-cop husband proves largely inconsequential beyond giving her special access to police files, while Patricia’s suspicious, then grief-stricken, then vengeful mother pops in and out of the plot seemingly at random. Also a lot could have been said about child abuse, or the pressures of motherhood, or even about different cultural approaches to family. But these issues are just touched on rather superficially in favor of making things scary. And that is a bit of a crying shame.
Performance wise, Linda Cardellini is effortlessly competent as the lead, and while the script refuses to give her more to do than chase after her children and scream the house down, she makes her character root able. Despite appearing only in the third act, Raymond Cruz managed to be a scene stealer, especially with the dry humor he brought to his character. I suspect a spin-off film that stars his character, while be produced soon.
While Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou, as the victimized kids prove equally proficient, Patricia Velasquez (1999’s The Mummy) is wasted. Tony Amendola, who played Father Perez in Annabelle, makes an effective appearance here. On the whole, ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ is an occasionally effective horror flick that is let down by a derivative script.
Directed – Michael Chaves
Rated – R
Run Time – 93 minutes