The Curse of La Llorona is why people say they don’t like horror movies. In an age of Us, Hereditary, The Babadook, The Witch, Get Out, Raw, It Follows and so so many more outstanding horror movies, it’s why some still think they don’t like the genre. Why they falsely assume it’s inferior cinema. Sure, this particular movie isn’t retroactively responsible for the distaste of scary movie avoidant moviegoers en masse but this brand of slick, soulless sludge is. With nothing more than an anorexic concept held loosely together with poorly-telegraphed jump scares, children constantly screaming and countless scenes of creeping through creaking casas in the dark, The Curse of La Llorona is the laziest pedigree of studio horror fare, coasting on brand familiarity and age-old genre tropes to pass the minutes by with nothing in the way of inspiration to lift it up or differentiate it from the pack.
The lack of promise peeks through in the film’s cold open, which reveals a mother and her two kids playing hide and seek in a sunny south-of-the-border patch of field. One of the sons hunts around for his family, calling out their names in Spanish, only to discover his mama drowning his hermano in the creek. He dashes off and the screen cuts to black. This very scene is representative of why La Llorona doesn’t work writ large: it’s drawn out without purpose, lacks palpable tension, and failing to inject any tonal specificity into the scene or deeper humanity into the characters. There’s no greater sense of why any audience should care about any of this nonsense and thereby the characters immediately becomes reduced to standees beseeched by a half-baked baddie.
First-time director Michael Chaves never communicates any semblance of command over either tone or character throughout the feature and instead relies on familiar horror pratfalls: repetitive scenes of tiptoeing through shadowy houses, a cursed lady suddenly appearing in a mirror (or over your shoulder) (or out of the bathtub), stupid characters making forehead-smacking choices, huge logical and continuity gaps. If La Llorona were a bingo card of bad horror movie tropes, audience members are privy to a quick win.
The sixth movie to take place in the hit-making Conjuring Universe, La Llorona is also by far the worst entry to the series thus far. Which is certainly saying something after the horrors of Annabelle and The Nun. The film, as written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (the duo behind teenage rom-com Five Feet Apart), is incredibly straight-forward. After drowning her children, La Llorona, the weeping woman, becomes Mexican folktale, told to snatch up children as her own. She comes to haunt the family of widowed CPS caseworker Anna (Linda Cardellini) and her children Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynee Kinchen) because of a vengeful client and troubled mother (Patricia Velasquez) who lost two sons of her own.
If nothing else, I expected The Curse of La Llorona to really indulge in its Latin-Americanness, to tease out that greater sense of community and use the fulcrum of folklore and cultural customs to provide a different vantage point for a horror movie to unfold. And while the film brandishes notable visibility for representation in terms of talent in front of and behind the camera, LatinX culture is reduced to some sentences in Spanish and a cast of predominantly Latin actors. It’s easy to spot the folly when you realize the fact that both writers are white.
There’s no subtextual content to speak of, no subtle commentary on Mexican-American geopolitical relations, no attempt to tie the weeping woman back into fundamental Mexican folklore. There’s not really even an attempt to justify the titular villain’s motivations. A quick throwaway line in the first act gives her the most cursory of motives but when your baddie is nothing more than a mindless boogeyman in a white dress, it fails to conjure much legitimate fear. And look, I’m not against a horror movie that proudly is what it is, that boldly stands as nothing more than the sum of its scary parts, but when its part are so flimsy, you have a product that simply is meaningless: a menagerie of nothingness. And when that nothingness doesn’t even manage to be scary, it’s hard to figure out what the point of all of this is meant to be.
Linda Cardellini does the best she can with what’s been given on the page but that doesn’t amount to much more than her looking scared or yelling something to the effect of “DON’T TAKE MY CHILDREN!” Cardellini is a fine actress, which cannot be said of all the performers trapped in this turgid trash, but she has just about nothing to work with. The children are simply bad though little is asked of them outside getting tossed around like rag dolls and shrieking. Raymond Cruz of Breaking Bad gives a late-stage jolt of energy as a winky shaman working outside the church but even his deadpan humor doesn’t really fit into the mood of the movie, one of many elements that are hard to pin down because the writers and director never seem to decide upon any discernible style to call their own.
Rather, The Curse of La Llorona is happy to borrow ideas from better movies, ape jump scares from more effective ones, and replicate the slick style established by James Wan over the course of this interconnected Conjuring horror-verse. As a potpourri of feeble jump scares, sour writing, bad effects, lazy creature design, and undercooked ideas, The Curse of La Llorona has almost nothing to call its own except its total lack of creativity and a proclivity to half-heartedly copy superior genre entries. Now if it only doesn’t copy its predecessor’s box office success, Wan might finally learn that he needs to actually put some thought into these mindless Conjuring spin-offs or finally lay them to rest.
CONCLUSION: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ promises to inject a Latin-X flavor into the Conjuring universe but barely even manages that. Nothing more than a dreadful fit of overdone cliches, it’s the kind of lowest-wrung horror movie that gives the genre a bad name while providing absolutely zero scares.
For other reviews, interviews, and featured articles, be sure to: