Sneaking up behind you as silent as the grave, a ghostly figure glides up behind you only to lay it’s bony hand on a shoulder bristling with gooseflesh and to whisper nine simple words into your upturned ear. Your pupils contract as it clues you in on the darkest secrets only the dead could know. It a guttural voice it hisses… “The Curse Of La Llorona is a Conjuring movie…”
Ok, maybe I overplayed my intro there a little, but this stealthily advertised add-on to the most successful horror franchise there is kind of creeped in through the back door and announced itself with all the pomp and circumstance of a shy kid in maths class.
I suppose we should have seen it coming considering it was from the same producers, it’s set in the 70’s and it embraces the Conjuring style of flashy jump scares like a drowning man clinging to a life raft – but could this rather random addition to an established franchise manage to breathe some new (after)life into an established series?
Social worker and recent widower Anna Garcia is struggling to juggle her work with her responsibilities of raising two children on her own but when she suspects a woman of harming her own kids, it manages to kick off a supernatural shit-storm that threatens to consume them all. You see the mother, a woman by the name of Patricia, hasn’t been harming her kids at all but instead has them behind locked doors to protect them against a vicious spirit from Mexican folklore known as La Llorona (a.k.a The Weeping Woman). Saddled with the unnerving habit of drowning any child she comes across due to the fact she murdered her own in a jealous rage before taking her own life back in 1673, La Llorona has now fixated on Patricia’s two sons and actually succeeds in spitting them away and drowning them after Anna mistakenly has them taken away and put into care.
Days later and Anna’s kids start to witness strange phenomena themselves and it becomes fairly obvious that the weeping wraith has now targeted the children for a fatal dunking and marks both with her burning touch which ironically makes it look like Anna’s actually now abusing her kids. Galvanized into action, Anna seeks the help of the church who in turn directs her to former priest Rafael Olvera who seems to be a dab hand at knowing all the tricks necessary to keep a psychotic, kid drowning ghost at bay.
However, La Llorona has been doing her thing for a very long time and has many sneaky tricks up her sleeves which she deploys in order to win this deadly game of chess – can Anna posibly persevere against a being that has over three hundred years of experience drowning kids?
If there’s a criticism that could be aimed at the Conjuring franchise as a whole, it’s that despite the different ghosts utilised and occasional location change, most of the movies are virtual identical – but then, the same could be same of virtually every horror series that’s ever existed (I see you hiding at the back there, Friday The 13th franchise!). However, where stuff like Nightmare On Elm Street, Final Destination and, yes, Friday The 13th managed to switch up their identikit plots with ever more spectacular deaths, all the Conjuring movies seem to have is an ever dwindling supply of new ways to yell BOO at an audience and unfortunately, despite a slick shooting style and more diverse cast, La Llorona doesn’t have anything new to offer.
Linked to the parent franchise by the slimmest of margins (the only connecting tissue is the appearance of that Tony Amendola once again playing Father Perez who was last seen in the first Annabelle spin off), La Llorona might have been a neat way to branch the series out beyond cramming in Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in during the last 10 minutes to tie everything together but the film frustratingly has precious little to say.
It also misses the open goal of actually being an original american made horror movie that’s based upon spanish mythology with latino characters that kind of torpedoes things by having a white woman be it’s lead. Now, I have nothing against Linda Cardellini, in fact I feel she should be in many more films, but the movie tries so hard to tie her to the Latin American community of Los Angeles via her deceased husband and kids, you openly wonder why they didn’t just pull the trigger and make her of latin descent too. If nothing else, it would have made the secondary plot thread of Patricia Velásquez’s character going nuts and bringing the curse upon Anna a bit easier to digest as the “minority” character has her kids drowned by a vengeful spirit but the white woman gets all the support? C’mon guy’s, the film was made in 2019 for God’s sake…
Beyond this, it’s regrettably one of those movies where people constantly do infuriatingly stupid things immediately after being warned specifically no to do so – behold the sight of Anna’s daughter fucking around with a magical seal at the front door made to keep La Llorona out just so she can reach her dolly – but director Michael Chaves’ style is actually far more distinctive that some of his Conjuring peers which explains how he snagged the gig of directing the upcomming third Conjuring movie.
The actors go through their paces like pros but while Linda Cardellini can do protective mother in her sleep, despite some subtle differences on the surface, her character isn’t that different than the other countless haunted housewives the genre gives us numerous times a year. Similarly, Raymond Cruz, usually known for being a fireball of energy in things like Training Day and Breaking Bad, is disappointingly subdued as ghost expert Rafael and deals out exposition and advice usually way too late to use.
Not even La Llorona herself stands out much despite coming complete with black tears steaming out of her face and a yawning jaw that must come in handy when tucking into a Subway. Wrapped in a flowing white dress, she resembles far too many previous cinematic ghosts to mention, but perhaps most damning of all, she looks very much like The Bride character from Annabelle Comes Home, an antagonist that not only appeared on screen during the same year, but also during the same franchise.
Despite the occasional moment that manages to pull things together (Anna’s daughter getting her hair rinsed in the bath while not knowing that it’s not actually her mother is appropriately gut tightening) The Curse Of La Llorona is yet another standard entry in a series fast running out of ideas.
Hopefully Chaves will step his game up when helming the next major installment, otherwise The Conjuring movies may find that they’ve been exorcised themselves…