The Curse of La Llorona, 2019.
Directed by Michael Chaves.
Starring Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Patricia Velasquez, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Tony Amendola.
When a social worker (Linda Cardellini) visits the home of a troubled mother suspected of child neglect, she puts her own family at risk by becoming embroiled in a centuries old curse that attaches itself to her children.
The Conjuring Universe’s strongest films have been those whose narratives are grounded in ‘true events’. The Conjuring and its sequel dealt with the paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, with the spin-off Annabelle franchise based on a doll held in the Warren’s Occult Museum in Connecticut.
Thus far, the only film in the universe that isn’t based on a documented haunting is The Nun, which was the creation of James Wan, based on demonic lore from the 14th Century. It resulted in a paint-by-numbers horror, that was over-reliant on CGI, and completely lacking in the realism of the movies from which it was born. That’s a copy ‘n’ paste criticism which you can attach to this praise of Poltergeist retread, The Curse of La Llorona.
In fact, it’s credentials as a Conjuring Universe movie feel questionable, much in the same way that films have been tenuously bolted onto the Cloverfield franchise. The Curse of La Llorona makes mention of a possessed doll, and features Annabelle‘s Father Perez character (Tony Amendola), but all of this feels like a post-production afterthought. Perhaps it should have focused on being its own thing, because truth-be-told, at times The Curse of La Llorona is a fun little go-around on a seen-it-all-before ghost train ride.
First-time director Michael Chaves does a tremendous job of rooting the movie in the 70s. Not just by having Linda Cardellini sport terrific flares, or unleashing Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, but with the tones and filters used, particularly during the opening gambit. Much in the same way Wan gave The Conjuring an authentic look, these techniques make The Curse of La Llorona feel like one of those Amityville era classics, for a while at least.
La Llorona‘s problems arise once it has summoned its demon, because it doesn’t really know what to do with her. The idea of a weeping woman is inherently creepy, but instead of making the most of this unsettling sound with some slow-burn suspense, we get an overbearing soundtrack and so many jump scares that her impact diminishes rather too quickly. By the time it turns into a home invasion/exorcism actioner, you’ve seen La Llorona so often that you wonder whether the filmmakers have even heard of Jaws.
This would be strange indeed, because the scenes that do work feel lifted from other movies: a bath tub sequence that conjures memories of Freddy’s glove in A Nightmare on Elm Street, or the way the camera swoops towards an open front door, like the iconic shot from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. The remainder is largely creaking doors, loud noises, or a CGI face emerging from the shadows.
Those being put through the wringer do their best in terms of making you care about their fate, but the ever-watchable Cardellini is reduced to the role of scream queen, leaving it to Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad) to have fun as the deadpan priest, throwing as many one-liners as he does vials of holy water.
There’s enough here to keep the Friday night crowds happy, but judged against the other installments in The Conjuring Universe, as well as recent benchmark horrors like Hereditary or Us, The Curse of La Llorona is a familiar exercise in haunted house tropes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt