Let’s go swimming.
The Curse of La Llorona is the new horror flick from the people who bring us every other pop-horror film (and of course there is the obligatory connection to The Conjuring). This new movie has a deeper connection to Chicano folklore through the old story of La Llorona—or the wailing woman. I was honestly looking forward to this one as I wanted to see a modern take on this tale—and boy was I disappointed.
The film plays almost exactly like The Woman in Black or any other tale where a vengeful spirit targets children. What sucks is I am almost certain the wailing woman is older than a lot of these other folktales, but this film feels like it is ripping off these other films.
The formulaic nature of the film renders almost any narrative twist mute if you have ever seen a horror film before. We follow social worker Anna (Linda Cardellini) who recently lost her husband. She is working with Patricia (Patricia Velasquez) and discovers both of Patricia’s sons locked in a closet and obviously terrified. We as the audience know that the children are actually scared of the ghost, but the film does nothing to make Anna think anything other than abuse is happening. Instead of even attempting to explain the situation, Patricia attacks Anna with a hammer and is arrested (and is then quickly released, despite, you know, trying to murder someone…).
Lazy writing is as much a trope in horror as the jump scare but come on! We are supposed to see DFS as bad or stupid as they clearly don’t know what it going on, yet what else would a logical person assume? The whole “everyone thinks I’m crazy but I’m really right” is a cheap way for writers to force audience sympathy onto characters without bothering to give them sympathetic qualities.
Obviously, the ghost begins haunting Anna and her children—which is where most of the narrative takes place. However, Anna is not aware of the haunting at first as her children refuse to tell her they are seeing and being attacked by a ghost—which I simply don’t believe.
Obviously, we have to fight the ghost (because no one has ever thought of doing that before I guess) and we are introduced to Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) who is an ex-priest shaman now. I like Cruz, but he is wasted in this one.
I think we could say everything is wasted. At least 60% of the film is setting up jump scares—and they are telegraphed too much to be effective. There is nothing unsettling here, just loud noises and quick movements to spark a bit of adrenaline and trick you into thinking you’re watching something exciting.
Oddly, I still don’t think this film deserves the horrid reviews it is getting on the basis of the horror-movie-elements. Most mainstream horror films follow this same formula, and this one is at least competently done enough to not offend the senses. Compare just about any mainstream ghost film from the last five (or even ten) years and this one will be right in the middle of quality. It is generic, derivative, and predictable—but when was the last time we didn’t see a horror film in this universe that didn’t meet at least 2 of those 3 criteria? Fans of these films will at least be entertained.
Where the film does deserve scorn is its pointless use of a major Chicano folklore. This is just another ghost film with some Latino decoration thrown around. The rich culture is all but ignored here (we couldn’t even get a scene with a vibrant home cooked meal?), the religious imagery is mostly Roman Catholic (no mention of the Virgin of Guadalupe—nor even an image—), and we only get a handful of lines in Spanish. The writers of this film (the only other claim to fame being Five Feet Apart) seemed uninterested in bringing in the cultural imagery of the folktale, which makes this an exercise in absolute stupidity.
In the film there isn’t any reason to be scared of La Llorona—if she sees you it seems you are pretty much fucked anyway, but this leaves out the lore of her always watching. Removing any aspect of dread or chance turns this into a jump-scare production line of clichés where we all know the kids are going to end up surviving. Oh, was that a spoiler? Was it?? Did you have any doubts?
There is a reason that each culture has a different take on ghosts, monsters, and otherworldly things. Removing this reason also removes any identity from the story. Here we just have an empty shell of a horror film that functions only due to how formulaic the genre has become.