The Curse of La Llorona isn’t Annabelle unwatchable, but it’s certainly no The Conjuring rebirth. Michael Chaves’ ritualistic Conjurverse spinoff lays standard haunted house blueprints but doesn’t execute plans with particular enthusiasm or distinct characteristics. “La Llorona” herself evokes such richness in Latin American darkness and fabled maternal horrors, but none of that translates in this blandly monotone pastiche of basic scares that Wan’s lens has before presented with more paranormal viciousness. Chaves executes from Curse A to Banishment B, just without the particularly descript terrorization that’s elevated horror cinema’s best efforts as of late.
Linda Cardellini stars as social worker Anna Tate-Garcia, a single mother who unwittingly introduces her children to an evil ghost after handling Patricia Alvarez’s (Patricia Velasquez) tragic case. “La Llorona” (Marisol Ramirez) hopes to steal Anna’s children and drown them, but the strong-willed widow won’t submit without a fight. She enlists “Renegade of God” Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) to drive her newfound demon away, but La Llorona doesn’t take kindly to defensive advances. Time for some old-fashioned exorcism deliverance!
Say what you will about (the entertaining and perfectly fine) The Nun, but at least director Corin Hardy crafted something individualistic. The Curse Of La Llorona, alternatively, strikes no such vision or liberation. Instead, it’s a movie that apes James Wan’s signature horror rhythms without Wan’s samurai execution. Chaves’ style basks in hard-to-see shadows, weakly contributes depth-perspective thrills, and attempts to recreate the highlights of Wan’s best works without further trailblazing. It’s Conjurverse 101 brand spookiness, without the confidence or creativity worth A+ excitement.
Calling out The Nun again, Hardy’s lean into period dressings isn’t replicated by The Cuse Of La Llorona. A movie so rooted in rich foreign culture, opening in the 1600s, that quickly transitions into 1970s Los Angeles where we meet caucasian lead Anna. It feels odd, in a film lacking domestic legacy, to focus on Cardellini and her mixed-race children after her ex-cop husband has passed.
The Cuse Of La Llorona should be so vibrantly south-of-the-border, but never explores withstanding heritage subplots. For how thematically specific The Curse Of La Llorona is, it’s sure an oddly drab stateside retelling of another people’s generations-old urban legend. This “Weeping Woman” veiled by tattered white clothing who drags children into bodies of water is made into just another screechy ghoul in Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis’ basic and sloppy screenplay.
Chaves’ grasp on generating screams is reliant on loud noises and rapid jumps, but most importantly, Marisol Ramirez’s physical performance as “La Llorona.” You’ll inherently squirm as candles that represent safety extinguish and her words drift like whispered warning signs, except here’s my problem: we get *too much* La Llorona too early.
Her pale face, caked-on bloody tears, and demonic eyes are overused, repurposing lifted beats from The Nun and Insidious. Scare setups typically involve a long hallway, shattered mirrors, or somewhere La Llorona can jump from, and often during the night or in thunderstorms so low-light tension dissipates (underwater sequences fare better). Chaves doesn’t have the same sharpened eye for haunted overseeing that Wan’s showcased on repeat – signature shadowplay – yet he’s forced into the same mold, which equates to home invasion horrors we’ve witnessed, feared, and enjoyed on more heightened levels before (in the Conjurverse, even).
Positives can still be mined though because The Curse Of La Llorona isn’t outright atrocious, it’s just nondescriptly forgettable (which is almost a more damning fate). Linda Cardellini, for example, plays a fearless and provoked mama bear who’ll do anything to protect her children (except embrace her passed husband’s ethnicity throughout cursed trappings). Raymond Cruz waltzes in as this sometimes-funny La Llorona killer for hire, spreading fire tree seeds and rubbing breakfast ingredients over doorways. At its best, The Curse Of La Llorona evokes the mysteries of religion as Anna’s children joke about Rafael’s “magic tricks” – cue eggs exploding in a blackish, gunky mess. At it’s worst though, which is more often, characters channel idiocy while sepia color filters attempt to “periodize” 70s aesthetic without production value that matches.
Like, you were JUST TOLD not to break the mystical barrier keeping out the GHOST WHO WANTS TO KILL YOU – so, right, of course lil’ daughter opens the door, breaks the seal, and immediately re-dooms everyone because her dolly sits outside on the porch. Toys versus survival? Rinse and repeat the same foolish actions drenched in minimal color correction and you’ll have plenty an eye-roll (trances that don’t sustain, rules undecided, La Llorona’s scalding cigarette-burn mark not being believed). Even at 90-minutes, this introductory “What Not To Do In A Horror Movie” manual is more frustrating than it is frightful.
What you see is what you get in The Curse of La Llorona. A throwaway, blink-and-it’s-gone universe connection as Tony Amendola’s Father Perez recalls collecting Annabelle? Maybe. Are kids endangered by a nightmarish bedtime story that in recent years has been animated by Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights with more extremist dread? Certainly. It’s all so very by-the-books, undefined, carbon-copy Conjurverse refurbishment without a guiding voice, which makes for a disappointingly one-note watch that barely raises a hair. At least The Nun has personality – something The Curse of La Llorona’s waterlogged redundancy cannot boast.
The Curse of La Llorona tries to replicate the best of the Conjurverse but follows the most basic horror blueprints and without particular excitement.