The Curse of La Llorona – Review
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.
We are taking a trip into the Conjuring universe today for this horror movie review. The Curse of La Llorona hit cinema screens back in April of 2019 and we managed to catch a screening at the back end of its run. Prepare yourself for jump scares and the inevitable Annabelle references as we dive into our review of this much maligned horror movie.
Conjuring up a new plot!
It’s hard not to talk about the success of the Conjuring when reviewing The Curse of La Llorona. Spawning a number of sequels and spin offs, the Conjuring series just keeps on pumping out box office hits. The Curse of La Llorona falls into the same universe as the Conjuring, albeit through a relatively vague reference to the cursed doll Annabelle, and definitely attempts to leverage the name value of its progenitor. It is, perhaps, right here where the film begins to come undone.
Having not actually watched Annabelle, my most recent experience with the Conjuring universe was 2018’s The Nun and 2017’s excellent Annabelle Creation. My fiancee and I watched The Nun in a completely empty cinema screen which was in stark contrast to the packed out screen that we watched Annabelle Creation in. The Nun had its fair share of jump scares and Annabelle Creation had a group of girls a few seats from us literally cowering in their seats. It was hilarious and left us pretty hyped up for the full cinema experience of any Conjuring related movie.
Walking into The Curse of La Llorona, it was hard not to expect a 90+ minute jump fest that leaves your nerves shredded and heart pounding. Hell, maybe we would even have a little bit of plot thrown in and some interesting back story. Somehow, we walked out disappointed on both fronts.
The Legend of La Llorona
She wants your children. That really is pretty much all you need to know about The Curse of La Llorona. La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), for those of you who don’t know, is an actual Mexican folk legend used to terrify children into behaving themselves. Naughty children are told to obey their parents or else La Llorona will come and take them away.
The story of La Llorona is pretty tragic. It is based around a young woman named Maria who falls in love with a wealthy man. Over time, the man’s love begins to fade and he concerns only for his two children. Maria becomes increasingly distressed until eventually she spots her husband with another woman. Seeking revenge, Maria decides to take away from her husband the things he loves most in the world: his children. Maria drowns the two children but, realising her mistake, is overcome with grief and drowns herself. Maria is refused entry to heaven and is sent back to endlessly roam the earth, always weeping, looking for her missing children.
There have been a number of La Llorona themed movies over the years. The blockbuster horror “Mama” has a slight La Llorona leaning but with a few changes here and there. The Curse of La Llorona approaches the myth at its source so don’t expect too many changes. La Llorona is out to steal your children and that’s about all you need to know. On with the review.
A strange start
So after a little bit of back story, we kick the actual movie off in pretty strange fashion. An interesting on rails camera shot follows a few members of the Garcia family around their house on a busy morning. This scene really seemed out of place given the nature of the film. It reminded me a lot of the opening of Home Alone. I was half expecting someone to get squished against the wall by the chair of a much larger family member. Everything had a very chaotic, comedy-esque, quality to it. Whereas The Curse of La Llorona has a few cheesy comedy moments this scene is not at all in keeping with the style of the movie. This plays into one of the bigger problems with the movie. The Curse of La Llorona has a difficult time maintaining suspense. I don’t know what order the movie was filmed in but scenes often don’t mesh well with each other and they often feel disjointed.
We then move on to the work place of our obviously very busy protagonist Anna Tate-Garcia (played by Linda Cardellini who you may recognise as Velma from the Scooby Doo movies but who I recognise as the voice of CJ from the awesome Regular Show). Anna is a caseworker who helps people who are in difficult situations or who require social assistance.
Anna visits one of her clients, a Mexican lady called Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez), and finds that she has locked her two boys in a cupboard. Candles are set up throughout her apartment and it appears there is some sort of ritual taking place. Concerned for the children, Anna asks Patricia to remove them from the cupboard. Patricia tells Anna she can’t as they are in danger. Anna reaches for the key around Patricia’s neck and Patricia attacks her. A policeman restrains Patricia and Anna snatches the key. Against Patricia’s advice, Anna removes the children from the cupboard and Patricia is taken away.
Patricia’s children are put into a care home only for tragedy to strike. In releasing the boys from the cupboard, Anna sparked a chain of events that would put the lives of her family in danger and require the assistance of former priest Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) to put right.
Lots of exposition
So one thing that is pretty common with this type of horror movie is the use of a whole ton of exposition. The Curse of La Llorona is even more guilty of this than most. Everything is explained in great detail and the assumed lack of knowledge of the audience apparently means we need to be told everything about La Llorona with the exception of her dress size. It’s not long before you will be rolling your eyes as the members of the cast explain the events in an almost Scooby Doo style narrative.
This need to explain everything even goes into the minor details of the characters. For example, I kind of get the feeling that Anna’s double barrel surname is there purely to remind us that Anna is indeed non-latino. This explains her apparent ignorance to the legend of La Llorona. Does La Llorona only seek out children of Mexican heritage? Seems like a supernatural, malevolent creature wouldn’t be too interested in discriminating but at least we have that little bit of exposition out of the way.
We have relics, rituals, and backstories which are all explained in detail. Anna’s daughter, Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), has a plush toy that she carries around and even the significance of that is explained. It’s almost nauseating how much these types of movies feel as though they need to make clear. Would it really hurt to leave some things unsaid and let the viewer work it out for themselves?
A cookie cutter plot
The Curse of La Llorona is boring.. There is no other way to put it. The plot is bland and worn out like an over stretched elastic band. So many of the plot points have been done a million times before and in a much better way. Characters are generally one dimensional and plot elements, as well as character reactions, are tired and predictable. The movie runs around 93 minutes and you feel every minute of it. By the last third you are really itching for it to just wrap up. After spending the majority of the film hoping for something interesting to happen, I just sort of lost focus. The disappointment and boredom leads you to almost drift off and start thinking about something else.
It really doesn’t help that the characters in The Curse of La Llorona are ridiculously stupid. They act in completely the wrong way in every situation. You can predict what they will do next purely by looking at what they shouldn’t do. This impacts both the plot and the horror aspect of the movie. When a movie forces the scares it really detracts from the overall experience and just feels lazy.
The pacing here is something of a problem but I am not sure better pacing would have improved things dramatically. La Llorona is an ever present threat throughout the movie’s length and the scares start early on but everything feels dull. Human drama elements don’t really do anything to push the plot forward and don’t inspire much emotion in the viewer. It feels as though you have seen this movie hundreds of times before.
Acting and Cinematography
Acting is a mix of adequate and terrible. I applaud the producers for having a majority Latin cast. This really lends itself well to the La Llorona experience and helps you buy into the myth a little. Linda Cardellini is decent as Anna. Patricia Velasquez is pretty convincing as the suffering mother of the two boys. Raymond Cruz has a bit of a confused delivery as Rafael Olvera. Some of his lines come off a little forced and the character’s humour doesn’t feel very natural. At times it’s almost as though he doesn’t know how loud he has to speak for the mics to pick him up. I would definitely say he was a weak point for such a vital character.
Cinematography is pretty bland for a big budget movie. There is nothing to complain about but nothing to write home about, either. Some of the shots feel really out of place compared with others and everything can feel a bit confused at times. As I am sure you can imagine, sound production is pretty typical of a jump scare horror. Vocals are low and incidental noises are louder than your average boy racer’s VW Golf with straight pipe exhaust, turbo, and blow off valve. You will be straining to hear what a character is saying only to be deafened by a random jump scare; par for the course really.
You are probably going into The Curse of La Llorona expecting jump scares, right? Well, in part you would be right but they are so predictable that their effectiveness is severely compromised. My fiancee didn’t jump once and she jumps at practically everything in horror movies. The film goes out of its way to set up the tension with a stack of false scares, of course. When the real jumps come, however, they just don’t seem to have the desired reaction. Compared to Annabelle Creation, or even The Nun for that matter, The Curse of La Llorona is just not that scary.
Maybe it is La Llorona herself? She is pretty easy to stop and, at times, appears almost a bit bumbling. The legend of La Llorona is pretty creepy and the source has plenty of potential but The Curse of La Llorona turns the Weeping Woman into a low rent Nun.
Is it a Knockout?
The Curse of La Llorona is both exactly what you might expect and a huge disappointment. I went into this movie expecting a jump fest with a fair bit of plot, a creepy backstory, and an interesting antagonist. What I got was a ton of wasted, predictable, low effort jump scares, a fairly well fleshed out but lacklustre plot, a creepy but not very well executed backstory, and an interesting but almost comical antagonist.
The Curse of La Llorona could have been so much better with a little more effort. A few plot twists here and there, a little more effort put into the scares, and some better acting could have at least made this movie worth a watch. As it stands, it just feels like a waste of time. There are far better horror movies that do the same thing and far better movies from The Conjuring universe. Annabelle Creation is much better and I would go as far as to say that The Nun is a lot better, as well.
If you go in with low expectations, you may really enjoy The Curse of La Llorona. I mean, I had no expectations at all and was still left disappointed. Watch it with your friends, turn off the lights and turn up the volume. If you have a jumpy friend, you may have a good time. Otherwise, you will likely be bored and wishing that Annabelle would pop her creepy little head out. Here's hoping Annabelle Comes Home is better.