There have been plenty of attempts at creating cinematic universes thanks to the massive success of the Marvel superhero films, though most of them have fallen flat due to the focus on the overall potential universe instead of the individual (often introductory) films themselves. The Conjuring was released in 2013 and delivered the horror goods on all fronts from visuals to acting to the story itself. That was just six years ago, but that film planted some seeds for a universe to grow without hindering the original film at all – which is how it should be done.
In the six years since The Conjuring was released there have been six more films released in this universe: The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun, as well as The Curse of La Llorona. That’s a lot of content to be put out in a short amount of time, and it definitely reflects in the quality of the films found within the universe. That’s not to say they’re bad, it’s just that they’re all quite similar in their feel and delivery. They’re all made on incredibly small budgets which leaves room for large profits even if the movies only have a big opening weekend so this trend isn’t going to change (especially with The Nun 2, Conjuring 3 and The Crooked Man all on deck to be released in the not so distant future); though it’d be nice to see them slow down a bit and deliver fewer but stronger films overall.
The Curse of La Llorona is a movie that could have been a lot scarier and a lot better overall had it been given the proper care like The Conjuring received. The Conjuring had jump scares, but it was also paced incredibly well, had strong, interesting characters and also built dramatic tension along the way. La Llorona just feels like another Annabelle, like another Nun and fails to stand out at all outside of it dabbling in the Mexican lore of the evil spirit. It’s a big case of been there, done that, which is unfortunate because there are a few elements within that could make this film much deeper and memorable.
La Llorona is the evil spirit of a woman who found out her husband was cheating on her, so to strike him where it hurt most she drowned both of their children in a jealous rage. When that rage subsided, she realized what she’d done and drown herself in that same river. Now she’s cursed to roam the earth, searching for children to steal, drown and replace her own – at least, that’s how the Mexican folktale tells it. Of course, we know that anything that has a supernatural story behind it is possible in this film universe, so when caseworker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) goes to investigate a report about two possible missing children, she and her own two children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen) become the latest targets of The Weeping Woman, La Llorona.
The pacing for the first half of the film is pretty slow, with what feels like slow build into jump scare after slow build into jump scare over and over with every character in the movie. There are also the usual frustrating tropes when it comes to these types of movies where you wish characters would just be smarter. Like when you’re targeted by La Llorona she marks you, and in this film she grabs the wrist of the family members at various times and leaves a pretty gross looking burn on their arm. So when Samantha is grabbed by La Llorona (before anyone realizes that there’s an evil spirit after them) Anna comes home from work and finds Sam alone in her room. She goes to comfort her and then sees the raw, gross burn on Sam’s wrist. She asks what happened and Samantha just says, “I fell,” to which Anna responds, “That’s quite the fall.” Really? That’s the response of this caring mother to her daughter when she sees this? She doesn’t even clean it or bandage it up. Chris just comes to the bedroom door and says that dinner has arrived and they just go eat. It’s a small thing, but it’s frustrating because while we must suspend disbelief on some level for movies like this, at least make moments like these count instead of just brushing past it like that’s a normal reaction for anyone.
There’s also a side-story of Anna’s husband, who was a police officer that died in the line of duty that has absolutely no relevance to the film’s plot whatsoever. At no point does any of the time spent on this part of the story have a payoff and if anything it just leads to another maddening scene where Anna is accused of possibly abusing her children because a doctor sees the mark on Chris’s arm and calls child services. So, during this scene someone from Anna’s work shows up alongside family friend Detective Cooper (Sean Patrick Thomas) so they can interview the children. When Anna tries to explain to them that she’d obviously never hurt her kids, both Anna’s colleague and Detective Cooper tell her that she has to wait outside.
This is not only a frustrating scene, but another pointless one because it also goes nowhere and just gives more screen time to Detective Cooper who is also in the movie for no reason at all. When Anna comes back inside, Cooper is seen telling the kids that he promised their dad he’d look out for them so if they ever need anything to give them a call. He then leaves and neither he nor the abuse are ever mentioned again. That’s not even a spoiler because you could pluck out the entire husband storyline as well as Detective Cooper and nobody would even know they were missing. If you’re going to spend a decent amount of time building up this relationship the family has with this detective, as well as the loss Anna is feeling because her husband died, then have it be for a reason, have it pay off in some fashion, otherwise just show us a picture or small memorial on a table of her husband and leave it at that.
All this time could’ve been better spent building up the main characters in the film, or giving a meatier role to Raymond Cruz, who plays Rafael Olvera, a priest who left the church and now walks the line between religion and science to help those in need. As it stands Rafael just becomes the cliché “priest who helps the possessed family” character, which on some level there’s no escaping, but if you have him come into the movie earlier and spend more time with the family then you can build him up more from there. Instead we have all the meaningless stuff mentioned above, and Rafael is about as one-dimensional as can be.
As mentioned before there are story elements about La Llorona that are interesting that I’d wish they’d focused on instead of all the filler. When Anna and the kids first meet Rafael at his office he tells them they’ve been marked and when Anna says she’s going to take her kids away from the house Rafael tells her that it’d do no good because La Llorona is attached to them, not the house, so she’d just follow them. That’s a nice bit of info to have; however, it once again becomes frustrating when Rafael then goes to their house to set up a bunch of defense mechanisms that leaves the family running from door to door because he hasn’t covered all the entrances that La Llorona can get in through. So then wouldn’t it have made sense for them to go to a hotel room even if the spirit followed them? At least there he’d just have to sprinkle some of his magic tree-dust across the doorway and window and they’d be good.
Now, I know that things going crazy at the house can make for interesting scare moments, but that’s why you don’t waste time on the husband or Detective Cooper, because then they could have instead figured out a way to go to the hotel, seal off the ways in and then there you have Anna and Rafael talk and get to know one another more. Those are the two that need the connection, and Rafael is the one we want to get to know more about. Then you have shit hit the fan because of some small miscalculation and they then just decide to go back to the house where you can have everything go down as planned.
That’s not the perfect solution, but that’s just off the top of my head, so while having time to flesh things out when writing the script, that’s where the fine tuning or adjustments can be made to make something along those lines work. The focus was just on all the wrong things earlier on and in turn it made most of the film just about jump scares instead of delivering characters or a story that even slightly resonated.
But even with all that said, The Curse of La Llorona has an audience, and if you’re a fan of everything that this Universe has delivered so far then you’ll likely be a fan of this as well. For everyone else, The Curse of La Llorona is more introductory horror for younger audiences just looking for jump scares and not much else.
This is a nice looking horror flick, with muted tones and cooler colour pallet to compliment the sharp images. Using an actual actor to play La Llorona also gives the movie a more realistic element to it when it comes to the scares, as there isn’t this giant CGI character floating around. While that can be done properly, this physical presence helps add to the film on a visual level. On the audio front the movie also does a great job of keeping things quiet and calm only to have things turn on a dime through your speakers. Both transfers were done quite well with this outing.
The Myth of La Llorona – This featurette is a little over two minutes long and is more promo material than anything. Considering that this is all covered in the next feature makes this pointless to watch.
Behind the Curse – This feature is just under 10-minutes in length and sees the cast and crew talk about the film, the origins of La Llorona, how important it was to do the Mexican folktale justice, as well as the location they chose to shoot at. There are a few other topics touched upon, so if you’re fan of the movie and want to know just a tad more about it – as this isn’t overly in-depth – then give this a quick watch.
The Making of a Movie Monster – This five-minute feature shows how Marisol Ramirez was transformed into La Llorona via the make-up chair and costume. It’s a fun, quick watch and nice to see them going the actor route instead of a CGI monster.
Deleted Scenes – Scanned through these really quickly and there’s nothing of note here. There’s an alternate ending sequence that is quite silly and easy to see why they didn’t go that route. It’s not really even an alternate ending, as nothing changes about the core ending, but yeah, nothing to see here.
Storyboards – Self-explanatory here if you want to check them out!
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents The Curse of La Llorona. Directed by: Michael Chaves. Written by: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis. Starring: Linda Cardellini, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez. Running time: 93 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Aug. 7, 2019.
Tags: James Wan, Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen, Linda Cardellini, Marisol Ramirez, Raymond Cruz, Roman Christou, The Curse of La Llorona