The Curse Of La Llorana Might Get You On The Edge Of Your Seat, But Won’t Keep You There
The 2019 film The Curse of La Llorana is a fresh installment of the blockbuster ‘Conjuring’ franchise of horror/thriller movies which all feature a common supernatural haunting/possession/ghostly/phantom theme. Although it’s got some mainstream commercial appeal, the overly familiar formulas for each film mean that this film struggles to rise above the mark left by previous incarnations.
It features the ghoulish protagonist who is the ancient ghost of a murderous mother, out looking for more kids to carve up. The film is directed by Michael Chaves who makes his feature debut. The supernatural theme using haunting/paranormal activities is continued, but there is an emotive connection established with the main set of characters (one family) that brings a deftness and intensity to an otherwise unremarkable film.
This is the 6th movie of the franchise - a series that has a definite retro feel (mostly set in the 70’s) while another common thread is an evil female phantom hell-bent on destruction. Cinematically, each film features long lens tracking shots which follow the movement of the subject. This optical effect helps to add suspense and an atmosphere of uncertainty to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. With this technique, since you can’t see a wide angle shot of what’s around the corner, it first conceals and then dramatically reveals the surprise elements - much to the horror of the viewers.
The film starts with a prologue set in 17th century Mexico. There we discover that the real-life model of the ‘Weeping Woman’ of their folklore was supposed to have drowned her own children. She was then cursed to look for other children to kill...forever. Fast forward a few centuries to 1970s LA, and we join our main protagonists at a time soon after the events of the Annabelle movie - a prequel from the Conjuring Franchise. The mainstay of this film that keeps the ship sailing is Linda Cardellini in the role of Anna Tate-Gardia. Linda’s character is a social worker who was widowed. She unwittingly releases the spirit of the deadly La Llorana while trying to intervene and save the children of the (apparently) mentally disturbed mother Patricia. As is revealed in a clever plot twist, Patricia was not crazy - she was just acting that way to try to protect her beloved kids.
Thanks to her background in social work where she had to deal with her own set of horrors, though of a more mundane and altogether less phantasmagorical sort, Cardellini brings a hardened character full of tenacity to the role of Anna. To his credit, Director Michael Chaves ratchets up the tension- a significant achievement considering this is his feature film debut. The stand-out scenes are when the children are alone, trying to fend for themselves against La Llorana.
Overall the formulaic nature of the movie, as well as internal inconsistencies of plot and the laws of physics (albeit supernatural) erode the film’s potential. The rehashed formulaic elements of pace, plot, and suspense mean that alas, viewers of the the 5 previous installments of the conjuring franchise have seen it all before. Despite the strengths of characterization and the attempt to add depth through the ‘folklore’ plot device, this film fails to convey a unified or meaningful story. That’s why The Curse Of La Llorana might have you on the edge of your seat for a time, but it won’t keep you there.
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A meatier script and more fleshed-out characters would also have helped raise the fright bar, but The Curse of La Llorona is still solidly watchable and succeeds in leaving a lingering impression.
Expect a Seventies Los Angeles setting, plenty of jump-scares and a generous dollop of The Exorcist.
It is a terrifically scary movie that I wish were more haunting.
Though it certainly could have been scarier and made better use of its premise, this film is still an accomplished, skillful effort in terms of its crisp, fluid look and spooky sound design.
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.