While the protagonists in director Michael Chaves flimsy frightfest ‘La Llorona’ feel the so-called ominous curse at large, some moviegoers may feel their own brand of cursing courtesy of a hackneyed horror film that revisits the tired tale of macabre mythology. However, ‘The Curse Of La Llorona’ has somewhat of an excuse to exist given its off-shoot status from the ‘Conjuring Universe’. Although ‘The Curse Of La Llorona’ wants to claim its own spook-ridden entity, one cannot shake the notion that this sluggish spin-off of sorts yearns to piggyback on ‘The Conjuring‘s previous instalments or posing as a wannabe clone of ‘The Nun’. The opportunistic producers were afforded the cinematic go-ahead to tie its latest manufactured eerie vehicle into an already established playground of paranormal paranoia. Nevertheless, ‘The Curse Of La Llorona’ peters out as a pronounced offering of supernatural sludge without any particular sense of unfamiliar dire, distinction or definition.
First-time director Chaves and ‘Five Feet Apart’ screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis provide the atmospheric, formulaic frights but ‘The Curse Of La Llorona’never quite distinguishes itself from its aforementioned ‘Conjuring’ contemporaries. This goosebump thriller feels more silly-minded than sinister. What could have been a hard-nose suspense piece invested in its twisty psychological confines of menacing Mexican folklore merely morphs into a conventional creeper that predictably meditates on its cheapened thrills and chills. Unassuming hidden walls, creaky floorboards, occasional glimpses of the bothersome and shadowy La Llorona haunting spirit, banging windows, miscellaneous off-kilter sounds and sights, etc, all come off as gimmicky, orchestrated twitches without any juicy payoff. Furthermore, the scares are rather synthetic and the schlocky shock of a legendary lass on the loose in the Polyester Period of the early 70s fails to generate the potential shady sensationalism at bay.
New Line Cinema’s fright fable wraps its hedonistic arms around the gory account of a historical Mexican murderess named La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), a 17th century scorned wife whose retaliation against her unfaithful husband resulted in her killing their children through the means of drowning them. It is revealed that La Llorona spent centuries regretting her decision to snuff the last breath out of her kids in the name of marital betrayal. So what is Llorona’s rationale in an effort to bring her deceased offspring back from the dead? It’s simple…she decides to sacrifice other kids’ precious lives in anticipation that her children will be replaced. Thus, La Llorona becomes a ghostly Grim Reaper throughout the countless decades as she drowns (her preferred method of murdering tendencies) children in the name of her own twisted redemption. Thus, the curse of La Llorona is born and grows more prevalent as the shifty She-Devil continues her deadly kiddie-coated wrath with sordid conviction.
Soon, the unhinged La Llorona finds herself hunting down children in 1970s-era Los Angeles which would ultimately be the beginning nightmare for social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini, ‘Green Book’). Things get mighty personal for both Anna and La Llorona over the common denominator of two drowned brothers found washed ashore from the nearby murky river. Anna’s emotional connection with the deceased boys was work-related as she toiled to rescue the siblings from their abusive recovering alcoholic mother Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez). Eventually, the tormented tykes ended up becoming wards of the state before their tragic ending in the rough waters of LA. Now, who could have been sick enough to send these precious siblings to their watery grave? Obviously, the automatic fingers point to the late brothers’ unstable mother Patricia. Both the police and Anna demand answers to this morbid mystery.
Apparently, Anna is getting too close for her own sake in pondering the demise of her saddened case involving the perished boys. Clearly, the miffed La Llorona is not too thrilled with the intrepid social worker’s involvement. The meddlesome Anna will soon inherit, along with her children Chris and Samantha (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kichen), the curse courtesy of a now determined La Llorona looking to wreak havoc and jeopardise the safety of the Tate-Garcia clan. Anna’s inherent caring and love for children, her own and others, and La Llorona’s thirst for child endangerment triggered by a senseless, brutal burial of her own flesh and blood centuries ago makes for a stalemate between two wounded women facing off in terrorising turmoil. Indeed, Anna’s compassion and curiosity for her profession placed her on the reckless radar of the spooky kiddie killer. Whatever.
As expected, ‘La Llorona’ goes through its lazy-and-hazy motions as it lumbers along in its guessing game as to what exposed kid would end up next on the cold slate. Actually, the ballsy premise to serve up victimised minors as a major consequence for marred motherhood is not a bad sentiment to explore with cautionary aplomb. Think of it: an apparition of a murdering mother from centuries past, a modern-day neglectful substance abuser mom and the dedicated and loving social worker mother for the ages. Chaves’s creepy commentary could have been a calculating reveal on challenging motherhood/womanhood-rooted cynicism at the expense of child welfare, the symbolism of domestic stability. Sadly, Chaves, in his first feature-length film, and scribers Daughtry and Iaconis (responsible for the now released trite teen romancer in the aforementioned disease drama ‘Five Feet Apart’) cannot capitalise on mustering any risky depth for this transparent terror tale lacking any caustic bite. The stand-by boo-hoo bells and whistles never quite fit the bill in its reach for jittery mayhem. Instead, this tepid tingly affair feels mundane and drags more than an over-sized Halloween ghost sheet costume on a pygmy.
Truthfully, ‘The Curse Of La Llorona’ does not want to escape its ‘Conjuring’ clinging and a grave mistake for not standing on its own two feet while believing in its pedestrian jump-scare exuberance.
The Curse of La Llorona
New Line Cinema
1 hr. 33 mins.
Starring: Linda Cardinelli, Marisol Ramirez, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kichen and Sean Patrick Thomas
Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.